Springfield Police Community Relations Committee's Work Is Not Finished
A special committee formed earlier this year to identify ways to improve relations between the police and the community in one western Massachusetts city may continue its work in 2018.
The Springfield Police Community Relations Committee held meetings this year in each of the city’s eight wards to listen to what residents had to say about the Springfield Police Department. It also solicited opinions through an online survey.
95 people filled out the questionnaire at one of the committee’s meetings and 235 people filled out the online survey.
While declining to release the survey results, committee member Matthew Forte, a former director of police academy training in Essex County, New Jersey, said the residents of Springfield think very highly of their police officers.
"They think ( the police officers) are professional, courteous, helpful. That is the general predominant view," Forte said in an interview.
The questionnaire, written by Forte, asked people about their interactions with police officers, how they feel generally about public safety in the city and specifically about crime and other concerns in their own neighborhoods.
" In any municipal police department, crime-fighting or law enforcement is only 10-25 percent of what an officer does, the rest is service-oriented," said Forte. " In areas where there is not a high crime rate, the quality of life issues take precedent."
Pointing out that 73 percent of the people who filled out the questionnaire said they are white, committee member Yolanda Cancel said the group should have been proactive in soliciting opinions from the city’s minority communities.
" Where the law enforcement affects residents they did not come out to the meetings, so I feel like the data we put in is pretty much flawed," Cancel said.
Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos created the 15-member ad hoc committee and said he is looking forward to its recommendations.
"The committee did a great job of going out and talking to residents about the pressing issues facing our police department and how we can improve police-community relations. I am very satisfied with the job they've done so far and I am looking forward to their final report, " Ramos said in interview.
The committee had been expected to produce a final report this week, but it has been delayed while committee members continue informal discussions about what should be included.
Ramos, who will formally be reelected by his colleagues on January 1st, 2018 to a second one-year term as council president, said he may renew the committee for another year.
" If that is one of the recommendations from the committee, I will strongly consider it," said Ramos.
The committee is made up of community activists, small business owners, a Springfield police detective, and an assistant prosecutor from the Hampden District Attorney’s office.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Commissioner John Barbieri declined invitations to appoint representatives to the committee.