Activists and City Councilors point to misrepresentations of the facts.
By Joanna Mae Boody and Spencer Fox Peterson
On May 19th, the City Council of Greenfield voted to cut the budget of the Greenfield Police Deparment (GPD) by $ $425,000, which is roughly the equivalent of what the city will have to pay after a recent court decision found Chief Robert Haigh guilty of racial discrimination against a Black officer, who has since left the Department. With budget cuts going into place, the GPD has taken to social media to lobby against the cuts.
The first of the posts, on May 25th, lists sweeping changes the department would allegedly make immediately in response to the budget cuts, which were not set to go into effect for several weeks. “Staffing will be reduced from four single-officer cruisers to two double-officer cruisers; Cruiser mileage will be limited to trips that are absolutely necessary to our core mission as a police department; Idling of cruisers should be limited to reduce fuel consumption,” the post reads, sandwiched by statements firmly laying the blame on City Council, gas prices, and “political realities.” In the comments, GPD followed up, telling outraged supporters that “directly contacting your city councilors is more effective than comments on our page.”
“Councilors have taken a lot of heat because of GPD’s posting on Facebook,” says Jon Magee, an organizer with Greenfield People’s Budget. “Other Greenfield departments facing budget cuts in the past have not taken to social media to complain or retaliate against councilors–not the public schools, not the DPW, not the fire department. How is the police different?”
“In theory if your job is crime prevention… you wouldn’t be advertising the time of day that you won’t be [patrolling],” another Greenfield resident and member of Greenfield Racial Justice – Solidarity & Action Rachel Gordon added.
The Coalition for a Greenfield People’s Budget formed in summer 2020 “to focus on public safety issues” in the wake of the George Floyd Uprisings, says Magee. Greenfield Racial Justice – Solidarity & Action focuses on issues that arise within the local school system.
The second GPD post that stood out for Magee and Gordon was from May 27th. The GPD posted on Facebook about cutting the K9 program and the one canine member, Niko. Niko was recently in multiple news outlets in Franklin County for escaping from a kennel in Gill while his handler was away. Magee says, “This post is the most egregious. This post announces that they will cut the new K9 program and has a very glossy photo of the canine and his handler in very sentimental sepia tones. It garnered 1,000 comments, many of whom are angry dog lovers who were upset that the City Council decided to cut this program, which is totally untrue. The City Council did cut the budget, but the police are deciding on what to cut.”
Greenfield City Councilor Maryanne Bullock similarly expressed her frustrations with the posts via email. “[Acting Chief Gordon] used my own quotes, where I questioned stipends on top of base pay for officers, out of context to justify a line item cut he made for the K9 unit, simply because I suggested it… I am shocked he would make a department cut out of spite for a comment made by a City Councilor and not based on the safety of our community.” She continued: “I applaud the acting chief for looking to crowdfund budget shortfalls, our public schools have and continue to do this through fundraisers, volunteer PTO and parents subsidizing costs out of pocket. As someone with a fundraising background, I wish he would do it without manipulation and with honesty and with public safety at the center of the decisions.”
GPD has been active on Facebook since 2014. The department keeps their social media policy pinned to the page. Community members have reached out to the Attorney General and State legislators to draw attention to this retaliatory behavior, Magee noted. But social media policies vary by department, as there is no direct guidance or oversight from the state on usage.
“I do have some concerns about the next City Council election cycle and how this might light a fire for certain voters and potential candidates,” says Gordon. “A lot of it depends on how the police department carries this forward. They seem to take every opportunity to say that they cannot do certain things due to the City Council taking their budget.”
Acting Chief William Gordon responded to The Shoestring’s questions via email about the GPD’s use of social media: “Our Facebook page has over 17,000 followers. Seventy-five percent of our users identify as not residing within the City of Greenfield. Over the years, our page has brought national attention to our city for all the positive things we accomplished, such as our Comfort Dog and Co-Response programs, as well as our humanity when it came to saving an orphaned bear cub. Only now, after nearly ten years, have people expressed concerns about our usage, and only after other people expressed their support for our Department, while others try to defund it.”
The next Greenfield City Council meeting will be held tonight, June 15 at 6:30 pm at the John Zon Community Center. Both Magee and Gordon anticipate significant public comment.
Joanna Mae Boody is an abolitionist, a gardener, and an educator in Montague, MA. Follow her on Twitter @JanimalMae
Spencer Fox Peterson is an abolitionist, a local food sourcer, and a butcher in Holyoke, MA.
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