CRESS Update: What New Leadership Might Mean for the Future of CRESS in Amherst

On April 8, the town of Amherst hired Camille Theriaque as the new director of CRESS. Following up on a past article, Staff Writers Ana Mosisa ’24 and Nife Joshua ’26 investigate continuing issues in the program.

CRESS Update: What New Leadership Might Mean for the Future of CRESS in Amherst
Camille Theriaque is the new director of CRESS. Photo courtesy of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Earlier this year, The Student uncovered the inception and challenges faced by the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service (CRESS) program in Amherst. As of early April, several updates for CRESS have emerged, indicating potential progress toward fulfilling its initial mission. Established by the town Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) as an unarmed community safety and alternative policing force after the murder of George Floyd, CRESS had noble intentions, showing promise that non-violent police calls could receive unarmed mediation, behavioral and mental health, and homelessness support services. However, CRESS encountered numerous internal issues, controversies, and the denial of town approval to respond to 911 calls from the dispatch center. The program’s former director, Earl Miller, resigned in October 2023 after an extended leave since July. Three additional members of the eight-person team resigned following Miller’s leave. Changes to the CRESS budget due to these shifts are unclear.

In February 2024, CRESS had just entered its third month of sending responder units in limited numbers to respond to 911 calls from dispatch. No new director had been appointed, and the aforementioned article expressed uncertainty about CRESS’s future role and involvement with the police. However, as of March 12, after months of vacancy in CRESS leadership, the town of Amherst hired Camille Theriaque as the new CRESS Director, and she started her position on April 8. At the same time, however, it appears that the three open CRESS positions remain unfilled to this date.

In this article, The Student uncovers new updates on Theriaque and CRESS, as well as returns to some previous questions left unanswered, such as what has been happening with the CRESS budget in light of vacancies and new protocol, checking in with the three unfilled responder positions, and also following up with members of the community. We interviewed the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) for their opinion on CRESS operations this year, as well as perspectives for future developments in the CRESS program.

New Director

New CRESS Director Camille Theriaque has a background in social work and behavioral health. Theriaque was the first female lieutenant in the Holyoke Fire Department’s history, and after retiring, she received her master’s degree in clinical social work. She became a licensed clinical social worker at Behavioral Health Network’s Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) prior to taking up her position with CRESS. She was selected from four finalists after a thorough interview process chaired by Human Resources Director Melissa Loiodice-Walker and involving various community stakeholders.

The appointment of Theriaque suggests the potential for significant improvement in the function of future CRESS operations, as well as their independence from the police department. During the six months that CRESS operated without a director, the town established an interim leadership team drawing largely from within the police and fire departments. The team included a police sergeant and fire department chief, as well as two town representatives, one of whom specialized in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Now, with Theriaque at the center of the program, CRESS presents a new opportunity to operate with greater independence from the police in line with original requests from the CSWG.

One crucial element that comes to mind is what has been done with the money allocated to CRESS. There has been a noticeable lack of transparency regarding CRESS’s financial operations. To answer this, we first must break down the sources of the department’s funding.

According to a presentation to the Town Council Town Services and Outreach Committee, funding for CRESS was broken down into operating and non-operating costs. Operating costs included personnel, pension, health and life insurance, etc., totaling 936,000 dollars, while non-operating costs, including vehicles and office equipment, totaled 122,500 dollars.

In 2022, the CRESS program started covering operational costs with funds from the town's budget and 90,000 dollars from the state, but it only covered some things, such as pension costs. These costs were covered in 2023, when the town budget was increased by 2.5 percent through the taxation of citizens, translating to an additional 300,000 dollars. The non-operational costs were not funded by the town; instead, 250,000 dollars came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and a 450,000-dollar grant would support related services like mental health programming. Future needs were to be handled through our regular capital planning.

The Reorganization Proposal for CRESS emphasizes the necessity of maintaining reserves in order to handle sudden increases in capital expenditures for significant projects; however, the proposal also urges the department to refrain from relying upon reserves for the sustenance of ongoing programs or to cover general budgetary needs. This means that additional funding for CRESS is covered by higher taxes paid by the citizens of Amherst. However, considering that public information about CRESS’s record management proves limited, it raises questions about how the funds for CRESS were managed during 2023. A 2023 report claimed that the CRESS Department is new and will track the service levels above each year to provide trend data to the public and that in 2023 the CRESS Department engaged with over 1,700 individuals. However, additional information regarding the budget has not been provided to the public.

Another crucial question we aimed to uncover from last time is the status of the unfilled responder positions. The discussion of the budget becomes particularly relevant when looking at these open positions, raising concerns over missing salaries, as well as other costs such as training. The Student reached out to CRESS and the Amherst police department for an interview, but both departments declined to provide a statement. The Amherst town website still purports that CRESS maintains eight responders, compiling four teams of two. However, as previously mentioned, three responders quit last fall, leaving CRESS with only five responders. The Student can only confirm that these positions were unfilled as of last December. No news of new responders has emerged since then, and currently, job postings on the Amherst Town website show no positions for new responders. In order to fill these new positions, the town would have to first hire new responders and then provide training in accordance with the Wildflower Alliance, the training facility used by the initial eight responders in July 2022.

Executive Director of Safety and Chief of Police John Carter noted the shift in leadership at CRESS but hasn’t met the new leader yet.

“While I am aware that CRESS has new leadership, I have not yet met that person. The Amherst College Campus Safety Committee has met with CRESS leadership in the past and learned about their development and aspirations,” he said. “We will be very open to engaging the new director. Our interactions have been limited as Amherst College, in addition to our police officers,  has its own holistic safety team that is composed of ACPD Community Service Officers, OSA Community Safety Assistants, ACEMS, The Center for Counseling and Mental Health and on-call OSA professional staff.”

Overall, his remarks demonstrate a willingness to work together towards enhancing campus safety and inclusivity, fostering a positive environment for dialogue and cooperation.