I am a bit embarrassed to admit that it was not until last week that I watched my first installment of the Greenfield Public Safety Commission (the April 26 installment). What follows are a few stray and somewhat randomly arranged observations…
I couldn’t not notice that every member is an older white guy. I suppose I should not be surprised.
One of the agenda items at this meeting was an intro from Cara Klempner of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit. Other than a few general questions from the chair, the only other question for her was whether her unit addresses self-harm. The answer was, of course, no. This unit seems like a great public safety resource and it would have been nice to see the commission members express more interest.
There was also an extended back-and-forth about how the police department got criticism for requesting more capital funding from the City Council when they have not yet spend the previous big capital request they made. Deputy Chief Gordon got a bit huffy about this criticism, saying that plenty of work has been done on that project, but that resources have been diverted to the fire station building project.
The previous allocation of $900k sits largely unspent, and now the police department is making a request for an additional $500k. (Somewhere along the line, I missed what this project actually is, but I think it’s some sort of construction at the police station).
This whole conversation stemmed from a public comment suggesting that there needs to be better communication between the GPD, the Public Safety Commission, and the City Council. That seems like a pretty reasonable suggestion to me. The Deputy Chief, however, seemed to take it as “Why aren’t you doing any work!?” and his response was basically “We’re working on it and I don’t appreciate the accusations that we aren’t.”
I’m definitely not the first to say it, but this digression from the Gordon, along with several other discussions over the course of the meeting really give the impression of defensiveness from the department and an annoyance/umbrage at being asked any questions or at the suggestion that they should be need to be more transparent regarding what they’re doing and how they are spending money.
Later in the meeting, Deputy Chief Gordon objected to some suggestion from the City Council that a higher ed degree should be a hiring requirement for the GPD. I agree that this idea seems dumb, but I have to wonder if there isn’t some misunderstanding or misinterpretation here.
Following both of those discussions, there was a lengthy series of statements from Public Safety Commissioner David Lanoie. His comments seemed to mostly focus on how the City Council ought not to be asking so many questions of the police department or pushing them to justify their funding requests.
I think I have had the idea in my head that the Public Safety Commission was intend to serve as a public oversight body for the police department. After watching these exchanges between the commissioners and the deputy chief, I went and looked up the Public Safety Commission’s role in the Greenfield City Charter:
The Commission shall assist the Mayor in the supervision and oversight of the Police and Fire Departments, including the coordination of the administration of both departments with one another, and with other City departments and agencies by making recommendations to the Mayor
…followed by an enumeration of various responsibilities.
So really, the commission as it currently exists is simply an advisory body. That provides some helpful context for the discussions during the Charter Review sessions a few years ago about reconsidering the purpose and makeup of the Public Safety Commission, as well as Councilor Bullock’s (P5) efforts over the past year to do the same. As long as this commission operates under its existing mandate as is made up of former law enforcement personnel, it is unlikely to function as anything besides a rubber stamp for the police department.