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Policing Commission In Northampton, Massachusetts, Takes Case To City Council

Protesters at the police station in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 1, 2020.
Alden Bourne
Protesters at the police station in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 1, 2020.

Members of a policing review commission in Northampton, Massachusetts, presented their case to the City Council on Tuesday for a new city department to take on some duties the police do now.

The 12 members of the Northampton Policing Review Commission began meeting in the fall. The city organized the panel in response to the protests for racial justice.

In a final report, released in mid-March, the commission recommended creating a Department for Community Care, which would respond to non-criminal calls, including mental health crises and housing issues.

Several city councilors, as well as Mayor David Narkewicz, said they liked the idea of assigning unarmed civilians to deal with non-criminal matters. But they raised concerns about the cost and complexity of creating a whole new department.

They asked whether the city could contract with an outside organization instead, as other cities have done.

But commission co-chair Dan Cannity said it's important the new responders are equivalent to fire or police "in terms of their status as an agency."

"It's not that they exist outside. It's that there's a commitment — a budgetary commitment, but also a sort of oversight commitment — of this being part of the city," Cannity said.

The council is starting the budget process for the next fiscal year, but did not take votes regarding the police report.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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