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Calling For Reforms, City Councilors Reject Police Union Contract

Springfield Police Department Headquarters on Pearl Street
Paul Tuthill

Pressing for police reforms, the City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts has rejected a proposed contract for police supervisors.

   By an 8-4 vote, Councilors declined to approve a proposed one-year contract with the Springfield Police Supervisors Association that would have changed the time limit – from 90 days to 120 days – for departmental charges to be lodged against an officer accused of misconduct.

   Citing a scathing U.S. Justice Department report released in July that among other things criticized the Springfield Police Department’s disciplinary practices, City Councilor Orlando Ramos said an additional 30 days to conduct internal investigations is not meaningful reform.

" And to somehow attempt to pass it off as meaningful reform, I thought that was insulting," said Ramos.

Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, and is a State Representative-elect, said there should be no deadline for the public to file a complaint about a police officer.

  "The year 2020 is going to be remembered for two things, the pandemic and police reform," said Ramos. " We are part of that history. We are in a position to actually make that change."

  Councilor Trayce Whitfield said she could not in good conscience vote for the proposed contract.

"I am aiming for justice and we have not had justice for far too long and it is time for a change," said Whitfield.

Joining Ramos and Whitfield in voting against the contract were Councilors Malo Brown, Victor Davila, Adam Gomez, Jesse Lederman, Marcus Williams, and council President Justin Hurst.

Voting for the contract were Councilors Tim Allen, Sean Curran, Melvin Edwards and Mike Fenton, who said it does represent some progress.

"It is not everything we would like to have, but no collective bargaining agreement would be fair if we got everything we would like to have," said Fenton.

Because of the city’s uncertain finances as a result of the pandemic, Labor Relations Director William Mahoney said the decision was made to negotiate for only a one-year contract instead of the typical three-year agreement.  He said the city could press for more concessions in the next round of bargaining that would begin in a matter of months.

The association represents about 70 police supervisors with the rank of captain, lieutenant and sergeant.

The proposed contract would have created an assessment center process for promotions to the rank of captain.   Springfield Police Deputy Chief Steven Kent said that would be a major step forward for the department.

" The fact of the matter is civil service tests are more about memorization than skills and the assessment center is the best practice," said Kent.

  With the rejection of the contract, which contained a 1.5 percent pay raise, the union and the city head back the bargaining table.

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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