Police, Greenfield leaders review use-of-force policy

  • Mayor Roxann Wedegartner speaks during a protest on the Greenfield Common in June regarding defunding the Police Department. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ



Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2020 4:27:14 PM

GREENFIELD — Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and city leaders are reviewing the Greenfield Police Department’s use-of-force policy as part of efforts to study the department’s practices and policies after receiving requests from residents in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minnesota in May.

“We were already doing a lot of what residents asked,” Haigh said. “Many of them are part of the accreditation process for us. We’re also adapting to our own local department’s needs. We actually are constantly reviewing our practices and policies.”

At a rally that attracted more than 150 people to the Greenfield Common in June, some residents asked that the city defund police and reallocate the money to areas it could be most useful in an effort to fight racism. Brieanna Arsenault, who organized the rally, also issued a series of requests that included reorganization and demilitarization of the Police Department, ending “qualified immunity” and the use of a school resource officer, increasing police accountability, making personnel records public and not paying officers who are being investigated. She said people would also like to see less incarceration and the end of cash bail in Franklin County.

“We need an independent police review board to take citizens’ complaints and administer discipline,” Arsenault said in June.

Haigh noted the Police Department is making sure it is cognizant of the language of its policies.

“We’re strengthening and clarifying language,” Haigh said. “People had brought up 10 different points. We were already addressing about eight of them, with the exception of defunding police and issues with training because we’ve been doing what they wanted all along.”

The chief said, for instance, officers have never been taught to do chokeholds and they do not use them — the same with kneeling on someone’s neck — and they don’t shoot into or from a moving vehicle. While Greenfield police don’t wear body cameras, all cruisers are equipped with dash cameras.

“Obviously, officers would have to use lethal forces if they were about to die,” Haigh said. “But if that happens, they’d better be able to justify what they did. I’m not saying police never do anything, but they know what’s OK and what’s not. If an officer is on the ground and he or she is going to die, they might have to do something.”

Haigh said he and managers on his force, the two police unions, officers and the mayor’s office are all reviewing policies and any changes being recommended. It hasn’t yet reached the point of making final changes, but he expects that will happen well before the end of the year.

Eventually, he said, the city’s Public Safety Commission will also weigh in, and Mayor Roxann Wedegartner will sign off on any changes.

Haigh said his officers receive 40 hours of training/retraining each year, which includes use of force.

“I don’t see any huge changes happening,” he said. “It will be more about defining and a lot of clarifying. Folks want to know what we’re doing or not doing. That’s fair — we want to be transparent.”

Haigh said Greenfield has not had any incidents even close to some other communities across the nation. He said officers and the department learn from every incident they are involved in or hear about, and they make changes when they need to.

“We’re also looking at hiring practices,” he said. “There are always going to be some bad apples. We have to pay attention. We have to make sure we don’t hire them.”

Some people, such as Arsenault, want to see a civilian oversight board, and Haigh said he is supportive of the idea, though he would like members to be experienced and qualified to make important decisions. But, he said he hopes civilians also understand that there are times when complaints against police are unjustified.

“Most of our interactions happen because there’s a crisis, someone is in crisis or needs help,” he said. “The majority of phone calls to us aren’t made because good things are going on. People who are being arrested aren’t usually going to like police.”

Some residents asked that police remove the school resource officer from Greenfield public schools, which he said was decided by the department and Wedegartner well before the request was made.

Wedegartner said she has been working with Haigh and his department for months. Policies range from what to do when a suspect is fleeing to how to handle someone who is very agitated.

“Police have to have policies that protect the public and themselves,” Wedegartner said. “I’ve made my suggestions and will wait for the finished product.”

Once changes have been made, but before they are approved, the public is expected to have a chance to weigh in.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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