At their February 24 meeting, the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) awarded a $58,000 contract to the 7 Generations Movement Collective (7Gen) of Amherst to collect data on the interactions of Amherst’s BIPOC community with the Amherst Police Department (APD). The consultants delivered their final report and recommendations at the April 28 CSWG meeting.
The consultants’ recommendations advised gradually reducing the Amherst Police Department by 20 officers (nearly half) over the next five years. They also recommended increasing accountability and transparency by collecting data on the reason for every interaction of the public with the police department and the race of the person involved. Finally, the consultants recommended that the CSWG continue its work for at least the next five years to serve as a liaison between the BIPOC community and the police and to ensure that the above measures are implemented.
In addition to the draft report cited below, the consultants also recommended the following measures.
1. Creation of a Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS) program, a civilian, unarmed alternative to the Amherst Police Department, providing community safety services in non-violent and non-criminal situations
2. Provision of funds in the FY22 budget to support training, outreach, research, and hiring of investigators (as needed), and stipends for the creation of a Civilian Oversight Board
3. Reduction of the number of police by half over the next five years.
4. Including funding in the FY22 budget initiatives to create a safer and more inclusive community, including:
a. Continue the ongoing work of the CSWG
b. Create an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Town with qualified BIPOC leadership and program funding
c. Establish a youth empowerment center
d. Create an Amherst cultural/multi-cultural center
The data on which the recommendations are based were collected through participatory action research within the Amherst community by six community ambassadors selected by 7Gen . These ambassadors attended four workshops directed by Drs. Sonji Johnson-Anderson, a post-doctoral research fellow at UMass, and Dr. Katie Lazdowski, an educational consultant at UMass. These workshops encompassed an introduction to participatory action research, the limitations of the research, development of the research design, and analysis of the data collected. The ambassadors then conducted interviews with over 40 members of the BIPOC community ranging in age from teenagers to elders. The interviews were all recorded on Zoom.
The 18-page report presented by 7Gen founder Dr. Demetria Shabazz (see pages 6-24 in the CSWG packet) consists of many quotes from the interviewees regarding their experiences with the APD. The quotes demonstrate fear and suspicion in these interactions. Several participants related that they were stopped while driving or walking downtown for no reason. Others said they were afraid to call the police because they would either not come or would escalate the situation. None of the interviewees reported satisfactory or helpful interactions.
The CSWG will take these recommendations under advisement and consider over the next two weeks what they will include in their report to the Town Council which is scheduled to be presented on May 17.