AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – About a year since the Amherst town council approved an alternative to policing, 22News has now learned they’re fully staffed.
The director said deployment began September 6th and they’re already being put to work.
“The last time new public safety departments were set up there were horses and buggies on these roads, this is an initiative that hasn’t been tried in this century,” Earl Miller Director, Amherst Community Responder Department told 22News.
Miller is the director of the Amherst Community Responder for Equity, Safety, and Service Department, or CRESS for short. The new responders go on calls that don’t require an ambulance or an armed response from noise complaints to wellbeing checks. Miller said this new department doesn’t come with a road map.
“For folks of color I think there was this understanding that ‘oh CRESS will be working with these folks all the time’ but a lot of those communities feel overserved and so the best way we can serve them is be there when they call, but not being such a presence in their neighborhood,” said Miller.
A conversation that’s happening in a handful of communities across the U.S. and Canada.
Now Amherst is taking part in the Crisis Systems Learning Grant, a partnership that will allow these new departments to decide what it means to be an alternative to police. Miller said while Amherst is one of the smaller communities doing this program it’s one of the fastest growing.
Something he says is possible because of the willingness to collaborate from town leaders the community but also police themselves.
“We left that room with a commitment to public safety even if it meant some days one of us is going to be the star and the other one is going to be on the back side of things but that our commitment was to the town, Having another group at the table solving problems makes us all better,” said Miller.
Northampton is in the process of establishing their own policing alternative. They are receiving a $450,000 grant from the state this year, the same one Amherst got in 2021.