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Police chiefs consider countywide mutual aid

Mayor Martin has questions

Recorder file
County chiefs of police are considering a new mutual aid agreement. Greenfield Mayor William Martin has some questions before he is willing to sign on.

Recorder file County chiefs of police are considering a new mutual aid agreement. Greenfield Mayor William Martin has some questions before he is willing to sign on.

GREENFIELD — While a proposal for a countywide police mutual aid agreement is being touted as a win-win for communities, Mayor William Martin has his doubts.

The agreement would allow officers to act as police when they’re out of their own towns, as long as they’re on duty.

The agreement would enable officers to enforce the law whether they’re passing through another town while on duty. Officers from across the county often find themselves in Greenfield for several reasons, but Martin has several concerns he’d like addressed before deciding whether to sign on and enable them to use their police powers in his town.

Martin is worried that the agreement may have towns incurring extra costs as their officers respond to other municipalities.

“This would transfer the ability to spend town money to another entity,” said Martin. “I’m not sure that’s what Greenfield or any other community wants to do.”

The agreement stipulates that the town that sends assistance under mutual aid would be responsible for its own costs, rather than billing the town that requested the aid.

However, the agreement does not obligate police departments to send officers at another town’s request. Departments can decline to send help if they don’t have an officer to spare, if a response would incur overtime, or for any other reason.

Martin said he also has questions regarding the liability associated with officers responding out of town. With the county’s largest police force, he’s also concerned that Greenfield could be called on more than other participating towns.

Several smaller towns have signed the agreement, without much debate.

Currently, Ashfield, Bernardston, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Montague and Warwick have joined the agreement. The matter was brought up in Orange, Sunderland and Northfield, but their boards of selectmen decided to hold off until they’ve had more time to review the proposal and hear from their police chiefs.

Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge said the agreement would help avoid the dismissal of court cases based on jurisdictional technicalities.

While the agreement is focused on Franklin County, the bordering towns of Athol and Hatfield may be invited to join, at the request of their respective neighbors, Orange and Whately, according to David Hastings, Gill chief of police and president of the Franklin County Chiefs of Police Association, which is spearheading the effort.

The proposal is based on a similar agreement used in Berkshire County.

Another standing agreement allows officers from Bernardston, Erving, Gill and Northfield to act in any of the four towns.

Hastings and Bernardston Chief James Palmeri said the agreement has served their towns well.

Palmeri said it doesn’t result in officers routinely patrolling other towns or setting up speed traps outside their own jurisdictions. He doesn’t think that will be an issue with the countywide agreement, either.

Out-of-town officers often find themselves in Greenfield when bringing arrestees to the jail and court and taking mental health patients to the hospital. However, once they leave their own jurisdictions, the officers lose their police powers and become little more than citizens, said Hastings.

“If we take someone to the psych ward, and they act up when they get there, we don’t have the authority to do anything,” said Hastings.

The agreement does not mention the hospital, jail or court by name.

“The issues over prisoner transport and security with hospital patients aren’t really addressed,” said Martin. If the three locations are such a concern to other officers, Martin said he would rather see simpler agreements authorizing police to act at those locations.

Hastings said the agreement would allow officers to take immediate action when they observe illegal activity, rather than calling local police to ask for authorization first.

“Technically, any (outside) officer in Greenfield can’t act when they see something; they don’t have the right,” said Hastings. “The only way they could act now is to call Greenfield Police and ask permission.”

Under the proposed agreement, officers would be able to notify the town’s police after they’ve begun to take action.

Officers would also be able to follow a suspected drunk driver into a neighboring town, for example, and take action when appropriate.

“Now, if we don’t see an arrestable offense (in our own towns), we can’t cross the line,” Hastings explained. Traffic violations like swerving or speeding aren’t enough for him to pull a car over after it’s left his town.

The proposal would allow on-duty officers in cruisers to stop the vehicle and begin to investigate.

While Hastings and other proponents tout the provisions that allow officers to act out of town, they’ve glossed over provisions that allow towns to request each others’ services.

When a town requests outside officers, the responding town is responsible for the costs incurred by its response. The agreement also states that the assisting town would be released of liability for injuries, property damage, civil rights violations and other things that may occur from their response.

Martin said he’s not clear on where that liability falls, and would like that cleared up before he’s ready to make a decision on the proposal.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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