Amherst public safety group’s work will continue in fall

  • Amherst Police Station GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2021

AMHERST — An advisory group to the town manager that has made recommendations for public safety alternatives in Amherst, and next anticipates proposing methods of providing new oversight for town police, will be able to continue its work into the autumn.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Tuesday that he has extended the Community Safety Working Group until Nov. 1, giving the panel an additional two months to complete its tasks, following appeals from the community and a recommendation from the Town Council.

The group, led by co-chairwomen Brianna Owen and Ellisha Walker, has excelled at its job, Bockelman said, and is making proposals that will make public safety, and Amherst town government, work better for all residents.

“We have to make structural change in our organization,” Bockelman said.

Bockelman applauded the working group for looking beyond public safety and not taking a narrow view, and for setting the foundation for programs that can be funded in the future, including a Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC-led youth empowerment center, and a BIPOC cultural center.

The town is already moving forward with the development of a Community Response for Equity, Safety and Service, or CRESS program, a police alternative program that would respond to nonviolent calls that police now cover, as well as creating a municipal position for a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Owen and Walker, on behalf of their committee, recently sent a letter to the community expressing appreciation for the support they’ve received.

“We are grateful to all residents who engaged with us to help us recommend alternative methods of public safety to serve all Amherst residents. Your lived experiences, your feedback, your public comment, and overall support does not go unnoticed and we are beyond grateful to represent the needs of the entire community.”

They also are encouraging people to send email with suggestions to cswg@amherst.gov and visit the town website to get information about participating in coming meetings as discussions take place on possible reforms to the current organizational and oversight structures of Amherst police, including what a Resident Oversight Board would look like.

Bockelman said the working group’s co-chairwomen are also going to remain involved in facilitation and planning teams for the CRESS program, joining Police Chief Scott Livingstone, Fire Chief Tim Nelson, community participation officer Jennifer Moyston and senior center director Mary Beth Ogulewicz.

Meanwhile, councilors at a June 28 meeting, in a 10-1 vote with two abstentions, advised Bockelman to give two more months to the Community Safety Working Group to complete its work. The councilor who voted against it, District 3’s George Ryan, and those who abstained, At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer and District 3’s Dorothy Pam, all noted their support for the work but were concerned about taking action during unanticipated business, rather than on an item on the meeting agenda.

Pam said it is the town manager’s call whether the working group continues. “He’s the big dog and I don’t think the tail should wag the dog,” Pam said.

Ryan said it was “wildly inappropriate” to consider the recommendation, while Brewer said, “I’m really frustrated by this,” adding that as a matter of practice it’s not a good idea to bring up a topic to discuss toward the end of the meeting.

Most councilors indicated they have reservations about hiring a consultant to assist the working group in its next phase. In the first phase, the group used 7 Generations Movement Collective of Amherst to complete its report. A person hired to be the diversity, equity and inclusion director could assist the working group.