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Committee Looks Into Springfield Police-Community Relations

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    A special committee has begun working to identify ways to improve relations between the police and the community in one western Massachusetts city.

   The Springfield Police Community Relations Committee is starting its work by asking residents, anonymously, to complete a survey. It includes questions about interactions people have had with police officers, how residents feel generally about safety in the city, and specifically about crime and other concerns in their own neighborhoods.

    City Councilor Tom Ashe, who is chairman of the ad hoc committee, said meetings will take place in each of the city’s eight wards and as the committee’s work progresses, there will be follow-up to the initial survey to see if attitudes change.

   " I look forward to getting out into all the wards and doing this important work," he said.

   City Council President Orlando Ramos announced the 15-member committee in February after saying in his inaugural address that improving police-community relations was his top priority.

  " Our goal is to identify ways we can strenghten the relationship between the police department and the community of the city of Springfield.  ( The committee) will hold meetings across the city, speak to residents, speak to law enforcement, and make recommendations to the full council and to the mayor's administration as to how we can accomplish that goal," said Ramos.

    He said he is looking for recommendations from the committee that will create policy or legislation the council can act on.

   " This is something you can never get enough of," Ramos said.

   Concerned over reports that police misconduct was not being adequately investigated or punished, the city council voted last year to replace the police commissioner with a civilian board of commissioners. The change is on hold, however, at least until the current commissioner’s contract expires in 2019.

   The new committee includes community activists, small business owners, a  Springfield police detective, and an assistant prosecutor from the  Hampden District Attorney’s office.

    Zaida  Govan, a social worker and president of the Indian Orchard Neighborhood Council, volunteered  to be on the committee.

    " My concern is that the police feel the community doesn't appreciate them," Govan said. " I want to figure out a way to let them know the community does appreciate them and to help strengthen the relationships and to make everyone feel appreciated because I think that is lacking right now."

    Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Committee John Barbieri declined to appoint representatives to the committee.

     " My concern is that there is some politics involved," Barbieri said. " I am an apolitical person. My goal is public safety."

    Barbieri said the department is already pursuing a strategy to improve community relations.

   " We do exhaustive outreach to our communities with our beat management meetings," Barbieri said.  " We meet in every sector at least once a month to talk about every crime that has occurred in that  neighborhood.  I am certainly open to conversations about ( community relations)."

    He said the department also actively uses social meeting to interact with community members.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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