Greenfield police chief: State Police will take over midnight shift in February 


Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2023 6:53:18 PM

GREENFIELD — In a budgetary update that many city councilors and residents described as “fear baiting” and a “failure of leadership,” Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. announced Wednesday that the Police Department plans to no longer staff the midnight shift, and will instead rely on State Police, effective Feb. 1.

“For the community, for the businesses, for the people on the street walking around after midnight: You can still call 911, but we are going to transfer that call and then it will be determined how that will be handled (by State Police),” Haigh said during Wednesday’s City Council meeting at the John Zon Community Center. “It’s not personal, it’s just the way it is.”

Haigh explained that while there will be no officers patrolling the streets between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., the outside vestibule to the station at 321 High St. will remain open as a baby Safe Haven, as well as for individuals in need of immediate safety in domestic violence situations, for example. Incidents that require investigation, he said, will be followed up by detectives the next day.

“I’m concerned that we have a leader in a department who’s coming before us two weeks before … eliminating the night shift, and that this has not been brought before anyone,” said Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock. “There wasn’t an emergency Public Safety Commission meeting called. I’m wondering, and concerned, with how these decisions are being made.”

In a vote several councilors admitted they were reluctant to make — either due to the wording of the motion or the efficacy of resolutions in general — the City Council ultimately voted by majority to declare the police chief has “lost the confidence of the citizens of Greenfield.” The motion passed with seven “yes” votes and six “no” votes.

A similar resolution to declare no confidence in Mayor Roxann Wedegartner on the basis of her public support of Haigh failed to achieve a majority. Five councilors voted “yes,” while eight voted “no.”

Budget cuts ‘coming to fruition’

Haigh, speaking in a tone of frustration to councilors, described the loss of the midnight coverage as the fiscal year 2023 budget cuts “coming to fruition,” referring to the City Council’s vote in May 2022 to reduce the Police Department budget by $400,000 for salaries and $25,000 in expenses.

According to councilors, the cut was meant to signal that “major change” was needed in the department following the May 6 jury verdict in Hampshire County Superior Court that found the chief and the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against former Officer Patrick Buchanan and that the city was liable for racial discrimination during the promotional process for sergeants.

At the time, this budget cut was expected to mean the loss of eight officers. However, the Police Department came up with a plan to prevent layoffs, which included removing the part-time officer program (a change that would also eliminate summer bicycle patrols), placing detectives on a hybrid schedule by splitting their time between patrol and detective work, and allowing some open or soon-to-be open management positions to remain unfilled.

“The cuts would have been devastating if we let eight young people go,” Haigh said. “You wanted (to cut) the big salaries, but I’m sorry, that’s not how it works. ... So I gambled because I believed certain people were going to be leaving. … I rolled the dice on it, and I’ve rolled it as far as I can go because I didn’t believe, in the interest of public safety, it was smart to get rid of a midnight shift.”

In Franklin County, Montague, Deerfield and Orange have overnight coverage, with Greenfield (presently) as primary mutual aid backup for Montague and Deerfield, according to Haigh. The majority of the other communities are served by State Police. Deputy Chief William Gordon said since July 1, the department has logged 3,800 calls between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Haigh told councilors it takes six officers to run a “low-base, adequate, safe” midnight shift, noting that in the wake of recent retirements and officers leaving to work in other communities, the department is short three supervisors.

“The liability on the police departments in this state ... is huge,” he said. “You get sued for a lot of things. One of them is failure to supervise. The other is unsafe working conditions.”

Speaking during public comment, Police Sgt. Christopher Rowell added that the department has operated at “less than optimal staffing” over the last few months.

“We’ve been able to make it work through overtime, and that (money) is dwindling,” Rowell said.

At just over 51% of the fiscal year 2023 budget expended, Haigh told councilors the department has enough “to maintain just the people we have.” A U.S. Department of Justice grant, received by the Police Department in October, would provide $375,000 to be spent over three years to hire three officers.

“This is not a fix-all,” he emphasized. “We will put out a bid for who wants to come work in Greenfield. I’m going to tell you right now, I’m not sure we’re going to get anybody.”

‘Failure of leadership’

For many councilors, Haigh’s lengthy presentation Wednesday night brought into question the leadership of both the chief and mayor.

“There is a duty and responsibility that you owe the people of Greenfield to keep them safe,” At-Large City Councilor Christine Forgey, who was Greenfield’s first mayor, said directly to Wedegartner. “The question I asked you was how many times did you present a financial order to the council. My recollection was that there was only one meeting that took place during (Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour)’s presidency in which we discussed trying to supplement the Police Department budget. … There should have been multiple attempts to come to some understanding of what was going to happen. That, mayor, is your responsibility to bring forward.”

Wedegartner responded that their appearance on Wednesday was evidence of them coming before City Council “at the time in which we need it.”

“It sounds like the writing was on the wall long before there were six (officers) not going to be there,” countered At-Large Councilor Michael Terounzo, echoing Forgey. “It sounds like a mismanagement to then put forward this aura of gloom and doom with the subtle undertone of, ‘It’s all your fault, council.’ … A lot of things could have been done and should have been done throughout the last seven months.”

It was also noted by councilors that the city received the Department of Justice grant in October but it was only brought to their attention as part of the chief’s presentation Wednesday night.

Following nearly 2½ hours of back-and-forth between Haigh, Wedegartner and councilors, City Council voted by majority to schedule a special meeting to discuss Police Department budgetary issues.

Resident Michelle Allenby was among those who spoke in defense of the chief and the mayor, calling out councilors for “holding an entire department responsible” following the jury verdict. She expressed concern about what the change in coverage would mean for response times and noted there are bars in Greenfield that close during the midnight shift.

“We’re going to have nobody patrolling from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” Allenby said. “As a citizen and a parent, and somebody who works for a small, local business, it’s upsetting and unacceptable. I really don’t think that this council has fully grasped this.”

Other residents, including Rachel Gordon, sympathized with councilors for what she described as the “terrible position” the chief and the mayor put them in.

“It did not have to be this way,” Gordon said. “The chief continues to ignore … that we’re calling for accountability. He said it doesn’t matter how we got here. I heard Councilor (Dan) Guin say that as well. That’s not true ... it absolutely matters how we got here. That’s why you made the decision you made in the first place on the budget, and that’s why we’re here.”

An earlier version of this article inaccurately described the Orange Police Department’s coverage for its town. Orange has 24/7 police coverage, including during the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. 

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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