Letter: To The Amherst Community From The Community Safety Working Group: Fully Fund CSWG Recommendations

Photo: Garry Knight and Flickr. Creative Commons

The Town of Amherst’s Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) is charged with. (a) recommending alternative safety services and (b) recommending reforms to the current  organizational oversight of the Amherst Police Department (APD).  

(1) The CSWG recommended creating a Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service  (CRESS) program as an alternative to provide public safety services in situations that do not involve violence or serious crime. The fifteen CRESS responders, a  Program Director and a support staff is estimated to cost  $1,165,391 annually compared to the APD with an annual  budget  of $4.857.819 for 46 Police and two support staff. CSWG also proposed a budget for nine CRESS  Dispatchers estimated at $619,491 compared to the eleven Communication Center Dispatchers  budgeted for $723,220. It is disappointing that the Town Manager only allocated $475,000 for the  entire CRESS Department. This is setting the CRESS program up for failure. 

(2) The CWSG also recommended creating a five-member Resident Oversight Board that will  provide oversight for the Amherst Police Department and for the CRESS program. A stipend of  $10,000 is recommended to attract and recruit residents, specifically BIPOC residents to join the  Board. 

(3) The CSWG also looked at preventive measures to promote racial equity and safety for the  community. The group is recommending a Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)  with three full time staff and a budget of $227,000. A comparable budget to the Human Resources Department  for two full time staff and a part time staff is $221,187. The Town Manager has  allocated $160,000 for  the DEI Department. 

(4) CSWG recommended a Youth Empowerment Center to have a budget of $218,000 for four staff.   A comparable budget of $324,691 is allocated to the six Amherst LSSE staff. The Youth Center will provide a range of activities such as theatre, arts, fitness classes, job readiness, and academic  support. The Town Manager did not allocate any funds to the Youth Program. 

(5) A BIPOC Cultural Center was recommended with a budget of  $167,054  for three staff, This is a  comparable budget to the Amherst Senior Center with four staff at a budget of $235,00. The  Cultural Center will be a safe place for BIPOC residents. It will provide support, promote, and  celebrate BIPOC cultures, holidays, festivals and showcase a BIPOC museum. It will be a resource  for the entire town to learn more about BIPOC cultures. The Center will mobilize all the  organizations in the Amherst area that can be utilized to support BIPOC families.  The Town  Manager ignored funding the program. 

(6) The CSWG also recommended that no additional hires be made in the coming year at the  Amherst Police Department. The APD has had 44 sworn officers for the last 6 months or more. The  CSWG recommended that the APD force be kept at this level and when an additional retirement  occurs, that they then remain at 43 sworn officers. Instead, the current budget proposal would  increase the number of officers to 46. This is not the time to be increasing the size of our police  force. The CSWG made its recommendation to reduce the over-policing of BIPOC communities that was consistently identified by Amherst community members. This proposal is also important in  providing a source of funds for the CRESS program and making that funding available for the long term. Increasing the size of the APD while funding CRESS primarily from grant funds jeopardizes  the long-term potential for funding CRESS. 

Please contact the Town Council members before June 21, 2021 and urge them to insist that  adequate funding be provided for the CSWG proposals before any budget is adopted. Thank you for your support. 

Tashina Bowman
Darius Cage 
Deborah Ferreira 
Pat Ononibaku 
Brianna Owen 
Russ Vernon-Jones 
Ellisha Walker

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