New police patrol plan for overnight shift unveiled in Greenfield 

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2023 5:58 PM

GREENFIELD — A week after Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and Mayor Roxann Wedegartner announced a plan, necessitated by budget cuts, that would eliminate police patrols between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., the two officials appeared before City Council to share a revised plan that includes patrol coverage for most of those hours.

Wedegartner explained Wednesday night that beginning March 1, the department will temporarily shift to a schedule of two, 10-hour shifts: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Officers will work four days, with four days off.

Between 3 and 7 a.m., State Police will respond to calls as needed, according to the plan.

“With the understanding that this is a temporary fix for … March 1 to June 30, the Greenfield police officers have agreed to waive certain union rights around overtime and shift bidding,” the mayor said.

To compensate, officers will receive $300 per week, she said. This does not, however, include Haigh and Deputy Police Chief William Gordon.

“This will save significantly on overtime, which we really can’t afford at this point with our budget … and allow us to fill those hours of the overnight shift,” Wedegartner said.

Additionally, using a $375,000 Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, the department can hire two officers in early spring, and a third officer in June, she said. Wedegartner added that she will commit American Rescue Plan Act funding (an amount not yet determined) to assist with some of the coverage costs.

Haigh clarified that while Greenfield police won’t be scheduled to patrol between 3 and 7 a.m., if officers need to be called in during those hours for emergencies, whether it’s for storm-related flooding or a domestic violence situation, there is the ability and overtime to do that.

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“State Police will be primary,” he said. “If we have to come in, we will.”

The same will be true for detective work.

“This is not a fix-all, eliminating of overtime,” Haigh emphasized.

A ‘Hail Mary’

The revised plan comes exactly one week after the chief provided a budgetary update to City Council, during which he described the then-proposed loss of the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as the fiscal year 2023 budget cuts “coming to fruition.” This was in reference 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 at the time, 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.

Although councilors on Wednesday appeared appreciative to have a plan presented to them, there remained concerns about the four-hour gap in primary coverage by Greenfield police. Some councilors were skeptical at how quickly a plan was arrived at following last week’s meeting, during which the plan presented was framed as “the only option.”

There was no opportunity for public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.

“You said (last week) you had to deliver bad news, and clearly you didn’t have to,” said Precinct 1 Councilor Katherine Golub.

Wedegartner responded that after last week’s meeting, she asked the chief to “come up with a Hail Mary.”

“He had to work it out with the people who are on the street, doing the work, and that is what he did,” she said. “I don’t think it was an easy task. … I don’t think we knew as of last week there would be uniform agreement on any one plan.”

The mayor’s Chief of Staff Dani Letourneau added that she doesn’t know whether the unions would have agreed to the proposed plan prior to last week.

“I think everybody heard the dire pushback,” she said. “We really did hear the uproar last week.”

‘A real drop of the ball’ with communication

Councilors referenced the provision for supplemental budget requests in the city charter and also questioned why no financial orders had been brought forth at any point in the last several months, as the department lost officers to retirement and other job opportunities. Those positions had remained unfilled as part of the department’s plan last summer to avoid layoffs of junior officers.

“I was expecting that,” said Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher. “It failed to come through, which scared people.”

At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey told the mayor and chief there had been “a real drop of the ball” with respect to communication and resolving issues relating to the Police Department.

“A plan has come forward,” she said. “I think it’s a good start; I wish it had happened earlier, I really do. … If we’re going to make this work, it’s really got to be more than a matter of … funding.”

Forgey also echoed Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock’s call for addressing issues that go beyond budgetary matters. Bullock said she’s heard from community members imploring councilors not to let the elimination of overnight coverage happen, while also seeking accountability and police reform.

“There are a lot of people in our community holding both things,” Bullock said.

Changes ahead?

Moving forward, Bullock requested a “Public Safety Commission overhaul” that includes a clear written complaints review process and no vacancies as long as there are applicants. She also asked for coordination between the Mayor’s Task Force Against Domestic Violence and the Public Safety Commission to push for a coordinated review of background checks and allegations of violence by Greenfield police officers.

“Those are actual bodies of work that could easily be moved forward and be a start to some of the things I think the community is asking for,” Bullock said.

DeSorgher thanked the officers who have already been working extra hours.

“They’ve once again stepped up,” she said. “They put their lives on the line for safety all the time and I’m grateful. I feel like, right now, we’re in a better place than we were last week, but I still think we’re in a place that we shouldn’t be in.”

Haigh, who left about an hour before the end of the three-hour meeting, said he hopes the forthcoming shift change will be temporary.

“If we can get more bodies in our building,” he said, “I’m hoping we can have a different plan before the 30th of June.”

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

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