City of Amherst Director Unveils Plans to Achieve Community Safety Task Force Goals
AMHERST – A more than three-fold increase in funding for the recommendations of the Community Safety Working Group, including the creation of new departments to provide policing alternatives and to promote anti-racism efforts in city government , was unveiled Thursday by the city director.
After releasing a FY2022 budget that provided $ 130,000 for the Community Response Program for Equity, Safety and Service, or CRESS, CEO Paul Bockelman told the Finance Committee that Amherst could spend at least $ 475,000 to the pilot initiative, with additional funding to create a diversity, equity and inclusion department.
But as Bockelman presented a comprehensive plan that city council could adopt by July 1 as part of next year’s city budget, leaders of the community safety group expressed frustration at being left out. talks lasting nearly 90 minutes, with its two co-chairs describing this as “disrespectful” for the months of work they’ve done to make Amherst a better place for Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) communities.
While officials from the city’s police, fire and emergency services participated in the meeting, members of the group proposing the ideas were left as viewers. When she was finally invited as active panelists, Co-Chair Brianna Owen said she found it “incredibly disrespectful” to leave the experts out.
Co-Chair Ellisha Walker also expressed her disappointment that she was not allowed to participate in the City Manager’s presentation.
At-Large advisor and chairman of the finance committee, Andy Steinberg, apologized for what happened.
Even though the CRESS program could kick off next winter with nearly $ 500,000 to meet the task force’s recommendations, Bockelman said he will have to consider adding significant funds over the next two fiscal years, with no clear path. to strengthen the program until about -clock, program seven days a week.
The initial $ 130,000 to start the program comes mainly from not filling two police officer positions. This would allow the program to have a full-time director as of December and four CRESS speakers in February.
An additional $ 250,000 would go towards data collection and analysis, training and consultation, the purchase of a vehicle and the equipment of a municipal building, this money to be allocated from US federal bailout law.
Bockelman said the pilot’s first year faced many unknowns, including exactly what type of calls these responders will handle and when calls that do not require an armed police response arrive at CRESS.
The latest cost estimates provided by the working group to have a fully operational CRESS program include $ 1.78 million for salaries and $ 165,000 for other expenses.
In the meantime, the new Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion would be overseen by a director paid $ 90,000 using the previous salary of the director of economic development.
“It’s a tough decision on my part because both are important needs,” Bockelman said.
The budget for this department would also include reallocating existing money and American Rescue Plan Act money to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator, at a cost of $ 70,000, and the requested $ 80,000 take for anti-racist work that is already included in the city manager’s budget.
At-Large advisor Alisa Brewer said she was thrilled Bockelman took the recommendation to heart and is using exciting approaches to fund it. District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said she was full of hope and enthusiasm for what the city could accomplish.
Council Chairman Lynn Griesemer said grant funding, including a $ 90,000 amendment inserted into the state budget by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, is an opportunity to build these programs.
But for some advisers, eliminating the director of economic development is not a good idea.
District 4 Councilor Evan Ross said it could be short-sighted as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. District 3 Councilor George Ryan said he would mourn the loss.
Brewer said Bockelman should not take two positions against each other, while other advisers have noted that the recent announcement of the Eruptor project at North Amherst, a high-tech research center, continues without any involvement from the city.
District 2 councilor Pat DeAngelis said a position that can heal the community and bring people together is more important.
“We have to fight racism,” DeAngelis said. “It is worth a lot more than anything else at the moment.”
The other two recommendations of the Task Force on Community Safety, which it believes could amount to $ 385,462 in salaries, are left out.
Bockelman suggests that the city examine options for a youth empowerment center in partnership with the public school family center, and ask directors of recreation and diversity, equity and inclusion to city, once hired, to discuss and develop a plan for this center by December.
A BIPOC cultural center would also be designated as a priority for the new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with the aim of having viable options in December.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]