Just hours before a scheduled city council vote that could lead to a board of civilians running the police department in Springfield, Massachusetts, the city’s mayor held a news conference this afternoon. Mayor Domenic Sarno announced an appointment to the city’s Community Police Hearing Board and defended the advisory board’s work.
Mayor Sarno announced the appointment of former Springfield police officer and current Springfield College criminal justice professor Gary Berte to the Community Police Hearing Board – a seven-member panel that investigates complaints against police officers and advises the Police Commissioner, who has the final say on disciplining cops found guilty of misconduct.
" So when police indicate there is no citizens' participation or any type of citizen review, they are wrong," said Sarno.
The city council voted 10-2 on Dec. 5th to establish a five-member board of police commissioners that would have the power to hire, promote, and discipline police officers. A police chief, appointed under Civil Service rules, would run the department day-to-day.
Sarno vetoed the proposed ordinance. An override vote is on the agenda for tonight’s city council meeting. Sarno declined Monday to say what he might do if the council votes to override his veto as expected.
" I want the professionals to run the police department and leave the politics out of it," said Sarno.
Language in the proposed ordinance would not have it implemented until the five-year employment contract of Police Commissioner John Barbieri expires in 2019.
Berte said he was humbled and honored to be appointed to the hearing board. He said his research found that over 100 cities and towns have similar boards.
" For the past several years, I have looked at and examined what might be considered best practices, and I am not sure there is such a thing," said Berte. " As I have looked at how the city's current board has evolved, it has come through quite a few evolutionary stages and I think where we are at now is where we need to be."
The hearing board was established during the administration of former Mayor Charles Ryan in 2007. Critics have long complained that it lacks “teeth.” Sarno moved in 2010 to give the hearing board subpoena power.
Current board member Albert Tranghese said Barbieri has never rejected a recommendation from the board on disciplining a police officer.
"The big thing is the citizens are getting a real voice with the police department," said Tranghese. "You won't find another police department in western Mass. where citizens review their officers when there is a problem."
The current push to put a civilian police commission in charge of the force came on the heels of criticism of Barbiari’s decision to suspend, and not fire, a narcotics detective who threatened to kill two teenagers during a video-recorded jailhouse interrogation.
A complaint against the detective was never brought before the police hearing board.