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Editorial: Mutual aid agreement worth study

We can’t think of any community in Franklin County that hasn’t at one time or another hasn’t depended upon extra help. Mutual aid — it’s the neighborly approach.

Such arrangements are part of the county fabric when it comes to fire departments or ambulance services. Now, there’s a plan afoot for a countywide agreement between police departments.

Certainly for many of the 26 towns in the community, where police department staffing is limited to begin with, such a proposal makes sense. In fact, there are groups of towns that already have mutual aid agreements in place: Ashfield, Bernardston, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Montague and Warwick already have deals in place while Bernardston, Erving, Gill and Northfield have established an agreement that allows police officers from a particular town to act in the other communities.

It’s an idea that can make plenty of sense.

But should Greenfield be part of such a mutual aid agreement?

As the largest community in the county, one where police shifts are covered by several officers, not just a single patrolman, one might think being part of such an arrangement isn’t all that necessary. But the public also knows that despite all of the work and effort that Greenfield’s police force puts in, they can’t be everywhere all the time.

And so it might be useful to allow, say, an officer from Deerfield headed to the courthouse, making a traffic stop when he or she saw something as they were traveling within the town boundaries. Right now, those police officers can’t do so.

“Technically, any (outside) officer in Greenfield can’t act when they see something, they don’t have the right,” Dave Hastings, the Gill Police chief and president the Franklin County Chiefs of Police Association, told The Recorder. “The only way they could act now is to call Greenfield Police and ask permission.”

What’s being proposed would allow outside officers to notify Greenfield’s department after they began to take action.

Again, this may prove useful. But we agree with Mayor William Martin that there’s plenty to figure out about such an agreement before signing up. This includes questions of liability and compensation when it comes to officers from elsewhere performing police duties in Greenfield ... or when Greenfield officers are called to help elsewhere.

We don’t think that anyone has a problem with the basic idea of answering a neighboring community’s call for assistance or some other act of mutual aid. But making sure the agreement is mutually beneficial and contains no hidden costs has to be part of the arrangement.

A little caution is probably a good thing.

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