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Sarno Said He'll Use Executive Order To Strengthen Civilian Police Advisory Board

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WAMC
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A new clash is brewing between the mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts and the City Council over plans to strengthen civilian oversight of the troubled police department. 

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he plans to issue an executive order to make changes to the Community Police Hearing Board because of inaction by the City Council.

In April, Sarno proposed an ordinance that expands the civilian review board from the current seven members to nine and gives it the power to subpoena witnesses to testify and to produce evidence in the panel’s review of complaints about police misconduct.

"This will continue to build on the public's trust and  the mutual respect for our resident and our police department," said Sarno.

The Council sent the proposal to its Public Safety Committee, where it languished without a hearing for two months, drawing complaints about council foot-dragging from Sarno.

In a statement, Sarno said he has asked the Law Department to draft a modified executive order to “adopt as many of the changes as possible despite the City Council’s failure to act.”

City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said councilors have been working to come with a compromise.

"We are in the process of creating a law," said Ramos. "The mayor is essentially undermining the  City Council by trying to push through an executive order that is not in the best interests of the cit of Springfield."

A civilian police review board in Springfield was first created through executive order more than a decade ago, but critics have contended that the panel in its various incarnations has always lacked “teeth.”

Responding to a series of headline-grabbing police misconduct cases and payments to settle lawsuits against the police department, the City Council voted in 2016, and again in 2018, to put a civilian board of police commissioners in charge of the department.   But Sarno has ignored this ordinance, claiming it violates the authority given the mayor by the city charter to appoint the heads of all city departments.

In a bid to end the gridlock, City Councilors Tim Ryan and Mike Fenton sponsored the ordinance to make changes to the civilian review board.

While the mayor could unilaterally act to make some changes to the civilian police review board, only an ordinance from the City Council could give the panel subpoena power.

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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