Officials swear-in Amherst’s non-police emergency response team
AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The new non-police emergency response team, which came out of police reform efforts in Amherst, is now on the job.
“We’re the first program to stand up like this in New England. That’s a responsibility,” said Earl Miller.
More than a year ago, an alternative civilian police force was proposed in the town of Amherst to address racial inequities in policing. On Tuesday morning, the first members of the Community Response for Equity, Safety and Service - or CRESS - were officially sworn in.
“From the get-go, citizens of Amherst, we’re really looking for an alternative to a lot of the things that really kind of get dumped on police and fire,” said Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone.
We’re told that the goal of this diversity police force is to respond to nonviolent and noncriminal calls for service in place of town police officers. Western Mass News stopped by the ceremony where we caught up with director of CRESS, Earl Miller, who told us they selected a qualified and diverse group of people for the job.
“No one was tricked into this. They all knew. We were honest during interviewing. This is gonna be hard work, but I think the rewards are worth it,” Miller explained.
Livingstone told us the calls for service could include responses to mental health issues, homelessness and substance abuse matters, as well as wellness checks and problems involving youth and schools.
“We came to an understanding and agreement, and I was part of this discussion myself, that there were certain calls that just didn’t need a Amherst police officer to respond,” Livingstone added.
Miller told us he took this job after four years with the state’s Department of Mental Health and, for him, this new approach is personal.
“I’m somebody who had my own challenges with mental health and so really being someone who understands the way systems work has a huge ability to change people’s lives and hopefully bringing some compassion to that,” Miller said.
Livingstone said while many officers were skeptical at first, he believes this will help to free up time for police to respond to more immediate and dire situations in the community.
“Our officers, in the beginning, were like ‘Well, what does that mean to us as police officers?’ We’re like ‘What this really means is there’s gonna be certain calls where you’re hopefully never gonna have to respond again,” Livingstone noted.
He’s looking forward to this program making a difference.
“There’s going to be a learning curve, but I think ultimately, the collaboration in that is going on with the new CRESS director, police and fire officers, it’s going to be a really good program once we get the understanding down of what’s gonna work for this community,” Livingstone said.
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