Getting Answers: Greenfield Police budget cuts

A jury found the Greenfield Police Department discriminated against a black officer, but the chief remains on the payroll. Now, city councilors are cutting the
Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2022 at 6:51 PM EDT
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GREENFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A jury found the Greenfield Police Department discriminated against a black officer, but the chief remains on the payroll. Now, city councilors are cutting the department’s budget to send a message.

“We can’t escape, at least the basis upon which the award was recommended, racial animus, and it’s very, very painful for everyone involved to hear that,” said Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner.

Wedegartner is dealing with the fallout of a jury verdict in a racial discrimination lawsuit prompting budget cuts that the Greenfield Police Patrol Officers’ Association said could have devastating effects on public safety and could include:

  • Up to eight police officer layoffs
  • Dismemberment of detective bureau
  • Elimination of community resource officers
  • Zero police coverage 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Elimination of K-9 program

In May, a special jury in Hampshire County Superior Court found Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and the department discriminated against former black officer Patrick Buchanan and denied him a promotion back in 2014 over “racial animus.” Wedegartner placed Haigh Jr. on paid administrative shortly after.

“I don’t have enough information yet to say whether I would ask Chief Haigh to be removed or not,” Wedegartner added.

In response, Greenfield city councilors slashed the police budget by $400,000, which roughly the amount Buchanan was awarded in lost back wages and emotional distress.

“We should be firing the corrupt leadership and we should be reducing the force,” said Greenfield City Councilor Jasper Lapienski.

Wedegartner explained, “They acted to send a message and that is not the basis upon which responsible people charged with governing make decisions…and every citizen in the city of Greenfield, who relies on the police department, should be angry.”

Greenfield’s acting police chief denied our interview request, but the union said it will be eight junior officers who lose their jobs, not those named in the lawsuit.

The department implemented new cost-saving policies right away. Officers will double-up in cruisers to save on gas, so instead of four cruisers out on patrol at a time, there will only be two cruisers and the department said that could impact response times.

In a statement, the police union claimed citizens “will not be getting the response from specialty trained officers in unattended deaths, adult and juvenile sexual assaults, missing persons, financial crimes, narcotics and crime scene services.”

“I think there is not a cause for concern because we will be safer with less cops on the streets,” Lapienski noted.

Longtime Greenfield resident Susan Worgaftik said councilors used the only tool at their disposal - budgeting - to try and hold the chief and the department accountable.

“The town has not taken responsibility for this in any way, no one outside of the city councilors who have said, ‘This is a problem. Fire Chief Haigh,” Worgaftik said.

Wedegartner, who inherited in suit when she became mayor in 2020, is not ready to do that.

“Police Chief Haigh and the police department have, for the last whatever it’s been…seven, eight years…has made great strides in both understanding what it means to govern or to police based on social justice issues and lack of discrimination or racism,” Wedegartner said.

The mayor said the trial may not have been fair and the decision could still be appealed.

“I believe the attorney and the insurance company when they say neither he, nor the city, got a fair shake,” Wedegartner noted.

However, Wedegartner said racism has no place in the police department and that’s why she’s called for an independent audit of the department.

“We need to have an outside presence to look at the police department and tell us, have we made great strides? What else do we need to do?” Wedegartner noted.

However, some residents aren’t convinced.

“If it’s just to whitewash the process and to try to make us all go away, that’s not acceptable,” Worgaftik said.

Wedegartner said she’s also considering starting a police commission that would have more oversight of the police department.

“Can we do more? Clearly, we have to do more. That was obvious or is obvious now,” Wedegartner explained.