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Springfield Board of Police Commissioners holds inaugural meeting

Paul Tuthill
The Springfield Board of Police Commissioners at their inaugural meeting on March 11, 2022. Clockwise from left are: Robert C. Jackson, Gary Berte, city attorney Talia Gee, Madeline Fernandez, Albert Tranghese, and Norman Roldan

Members vow to be open, fair, and free of political influence.

Six weeks after being appointed, the Springfield Board of Police Commissioners held its first meeting Monday.

At their first public meeting in City Hall, the newly-appointed police commissioners vowed to be independent and transparent as they go about their duties to look into allegations of police misconduct and when they believe it is warranted to mete out discipline to wayward cops.

The formal agenda for the meeting dealt with organizational issues.

Gary Berte, a criminal justice professor at Springfield College, was elected unanimously by his colleagues to be the chair. He said the board is committed to being fair to all.

“Sometimes people get angry and upset, but we have to operate within the law,” Berte said.

Board members agreed to hold public meetings on the second Wednesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. There will also be ad-hoc meetings, usually closed to the public, where the full board will review police officer misconduct cases forwarded from the Springfield Police Department’s internal affairs unit and when necessary conduct formal hearings.

Berte suggested the board should also schedule public meetings with the city’s neighborhood councils and other civic organizations.

He said such meetings could “rebuild some bridges that have been strained.”

The board came into being after a years-long dispute between the City Council and Mayor Domenic Sarno that wound up in litigation that went all the way to the state’s highest court. In February, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the City Council had the legal right to create the commission and take authority away from the person hired by the mayor to run the police department.

Four of the five people Sarno appointed as police commissioners were members of the former Community Police Hearing Board – an advisory panel created in 2010 by an executive order from Sarno.

One of the holdovers, Albert Tranghese, said the new board has full legal authority over police discipline and it has complete autonomy.

“There is never anybody interfering with this board,” Tranghese said. “We don’t have outside political influence. The mayor and nobody in his position bothers us in any way.”

Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood, who will continue to supervise the day-to-day operations of the police department, said she does not mind handing over the responsibility to discipline cops to the civilian board.

“Everything, including discipline is very regulated and they’ll get to learn that as they go along,” Clapprood said. She said police officers have rights to appeal their punishments to a state Civil Service board and in court.

Bernice Ezell, a member of the Springfield chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, an organization that has been very vocal recently in calling for reforms to the Springfield Police Department, said she was pleased to hear the commissioners’ pledge of openness.

“I am encouraged and I am hopeful,” Ezell said.

The commission has not finalized the formal rules it will follow to handle police discipline cases. That discussion and vote was tabled at the urging of City Solicitor John Payne. He said the rules need to adhere to the police reforms the city has tentatively agreed to after about two years of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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.