Town Manager: No Changes To CRESS Mission



Town Manager Paul Bockelman appeared at the monthly “Cuppa Joe” on January 5 with two members of the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service (CRESS) interim leadership team, Police Sergeant Janet Griffin, and Fire Chief Tim Nelson. Bockelman assured the dozen residents present that the town was committed to CRESS remaining a separate arm of the town’s public safety services that provides “consensual” services, meaning responders only offer help to those who accept it. He emphasized that the responders are unarmed and cannot write tickets for violations, but have more time to spend with residents to meet their needs and coordinate with available services. He gave the example of a mother who could not persuade her child to get on the school bus and needed to go to work. CRESS responders could work with the child to figure out why he did not want to get on the bus and possibly drive him to school.

As of December 18, CRESS has been taking calls from dispatchers for a limited type of services, such as wellness calls, disturbances at the Jones Library, and mental health calls. Griffin estimates that CRESS has handled 15 to 18 calls from dispatchers in the past few weeks. She noted that It is also possible to call CRESS directly at 413-259-3370. There are only five responders working now, and they work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The town is currently interviewing candidates for a new director and is planning to hire three additional responders in the near future to achieve a full complement of eight responders. 

CRESS responders have an office in the Jones Library, which has decreased the need for the Amherst Police Department to respond to disturbances there. Responders also supervise a community service program for high school students on Saturdays as an alternative to suspension. They also do “presence walks” to familiarize the community with their mission, as well as attending many town gatherings and the “movement program” at 7 a.m. at the high school, which typically draws about 30 students to play basketball, lift weights, and socialize. 

Griffin said she has a particular interest in cultural competency and is finishing a Master’s Degree in clinical counseling. She has done some of the training for CRESS responders, and noted that the police officers receive similar training. 

When asked about expanding the type of calls CRESS responds to and the hours of operation, Nelson said that the town is taking a cautious approach of “crawl, walk, run” so it can learn from its mistakes before expanding services. He felt that noise complaints were too likely to result in violence for them to be handled by CRESS. As to expanded hours, Bockelman stated that no independent community responder group in the country works past 10 p.m. He noted that the group in Durham, North Carolina that has been operating for five or six years is probably closest to Amherst’s CRESS program. Other programs are part of the police departments or respond along with the police. The town has applied for grants to allow representatives of CRESS to visit other cities with community responders and observe how those programs work. He stressed that all three branches of Amherst’s public safety, the police, EMS/Fire, and CRESS, work well together. 

Bockelman also said that the number of applications that the town has received for the advertised position of Police Chief was insufficient, so the town has hired a consulting firm with the hopes of getting more applications. The term of Interim Police Chief Gabriel Ting was extended for an additional six months at the January 8 Town Council meeting.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.