Public Raps Possible Police Promotions
Several police officers with checkered pasts are up for promotion in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dozens of people showed up Tuesday night for a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, where a discussion of police promotion policies was on the agenda.
Stacie Gumlaw was 8 years old when she was viciously mauled by her neighbor’s two Rottweilers.
" I am still living with the repercussions of what happened," she told city councilors. " I have anxiety. I have depression. I still have nightmares about being attacked by animals."
The dogs that attacked Gumlaw 21 years ago were owned by Springfield Police Officer Anthony Bedinelli. He was suspended for six months for, among other things, interfering with the police response to the dog attack. In 2006, following a barroom fight, Bedinelli was thrown off the force. He appealed and got his job back. Now, he is one of a dozen police officers in line for promotion to sergeant.
" This is the kind of guy who is up for a promotion?" asked Gumlaw. "He shouldn't be up for a promotion, he should be gone. He should not be a police officer. This is crazy."
Gumlaw came to City Hall Tuesday night with several friends and family members who sat in the audience as she addressed the city councilors.
The names of the 12 police officers who passed the Civil Service test to become a police sergeant were first reported earlier this month by the Springfield Republican. The list includes former narcotics detective Gregg Bigda. He served a two month suspension in 2016 after a videotaped interrogation where he threatened to kill and plant drug evidence on two teenaged car theft suspects.
Also being considered for promotion is Anthony Cicero, who is currently under investigation for his alleged involvement in a fight between several off-duty officers and civilians. Another on the list is Derek Cook, who was arrested in 2008 after he punched two supervisors during a roll call at the police headquarters.
Police Commissioner John Barbieri, who said he could not comment on the specific individuals up for promotion, told the councilors that under the Civil Service process a police officer who has worked for at least three years and passes the exam is eligible for promotion to sergeant.
" I live by the civil service process, I didn't create it," said Barbieri.
Barbieri, who has the final say over promotions, said he does take disciplinary and overall work history into account and consults with his deputy police chiefs to arrive at a final decision.
" If you are an officer and you make a mistake 8 years ago, am I suppose to hold you to a different standard than I hold the community?" said Barbieri. " What I tell ( police officers) is when you go out to the community, public safety is key and people deserve a second chance."
Candidates for promotion who are passed over can appeal to a state board appointed by the governor.
One possibility, Barbieri acknowledged, would be to reject the entire current list of eligible officers for promotion and schedule a new Civil Service exam.
" I could choose to leave those vacancies open, but for two years five sergeants positions would be a tremendous burden on the department," said Barbieri.
City Councilor Justin Hurst, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, who has been critical of some of the commissioner’s disciplinary decisions, told Barbieri his decision on the promotions would be closely watched.
" He ( Barbieri) has an opportunity to be a hero, so to speak," Hurst said in an interview. " Hopefully, this time around he will make the right decision."
Holly Richardson, president of Arise for Social Justice, said she was stunned by the names on the promotion’s list. She claimed several have been accused of police brutality.
" This community has lost trust in this commissioner, I think you must know that to some extent," said Richardson, who called the promotions process " utter craziness."
Bishop Neal Boyd of the Endtime Revival Holiness Church credited Barbieri for a “seismic” improvement in police-community relations in Springfield.
" We have to forgive and give people another chance, and I as a minister know that forgiveness is hard for some people," said Boyd.
Barbieri did not stay for the public speak-out portion of the meeting. His spokesman said this was to avoid any appearance that his decisions on promotions were influenced by politics or public opinion.