Small pool of candidates for Amherst police chief job prompts search committee to widen interest in position

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2024 11:48 AM

AMHERST — An insufficient pool of applicants of those seeking to become the next police chief in Amherst is prompting the town’s search committee to increase efforts at widening interest.

At a periodic Cuppa Joe meeting last Friday morning focused on the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service department, which also has interim leadership, Town Manager Paul Bockelman informed residents that searches for both the police chief and CRESS director remain in progress, with the latter search more advanced.

In both cases, the candidates selected, as future department heads, will be referred to the Town Council, which will have 14 days to approve, disapprove or allow the appointments without action.

Bockelman said for police chief, a “strong, but small pool” of candidates is prompting the committee to meet again next Wednesday to go through more applications. The police chief would lead a team of 47 sworn officers and 14 civilian employees, including those who handle emergency dispatching.

Input is continuing to be sought from the Community Safety and Social Justcie Commitee, Human Rights Commission and others to make sure that the right person is selected to succeed Police Chief Scott Livingstone, who retired last May.

“This is one of the most important jobs in town,” Bockelman said.

The conversation about the searches came as Police Sgt. Janet Griffin and Fire Chief Tim Nelson, part of the interim leadership team for CRESS, provided an update on department they have led since the fall departure of CRESS director Earl Miller.

Griffin explained that they are giving structure to the department and ensuring that the multiracial teams of responders are ready to hit the street. Since Dec. 18, CRESS responders have been heading to basic emergency calls, while continuing programs that include collaborating with the schools and Jones Library, and also helping residents who call the department directly.

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At the schools, one of the programs is on the weekends and designed to be an alternative to suspension, and at the Jones, the office hours allow them to interact with those who are unhoused.

Bockelman said the latter initiative has been beneficial for the library. “Library staff don’t want to call police, but that’s all they have,” Bockelman said.

Griffin said that CRESS responders also do “presence walks” around town so people understand they are available to assist and morning movement classes with middle schoolers.

Both the police and fire departments, Nelson said, support CRESS. “The only way this is going to work is if we’re all working together,” Nelson said.

Even with complaints that the department has been too slow to develop, Nelson said it is on a similar pace to similar departments across the country.

While some have suggested that CRESS teams should be handling loud parties by college students, Nelson said those are situations that could pose harm to responders. Students aren’t violent, but beer bottles and other objects can be thrown. “Even those small ones, you never know,” Nelson said.