City Councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts are pressing for police reforms as they consider whether to approve a new contract with police supervisors.
In a scathing report about the Springfield Police Department earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice raised concerns that officers could escape discipline because of a 90-day statute of limitations to bring departmental charges that is written into the police unions contracts.
In negotiations with the city on a new contract, the Springfield Police Supervisors Association agreed recently to extend the deadline to 120 days.
"It's an insult," City Councilor Orlando Ramos said of the union's offer.
Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the proposed 30 day extension is a “deal breaker” as far as he’s concerned.
"This is not the first vote I am going to take on the Springfield City Council relative to the police department following the George Floyd incident when we stood on the steps of City Hall demanding police reform," said Ramos.
In doing some research, Ramos said he could find no other police union contracts in Massachusetts, or in other parts of the country, that so severely restrict the length of time for a formal charge to be brought.
"If you want to have a conversation about a timeline we could start with three years because that is what it is for the average person and I don't see why it should be different for police officers," said Ramos. He said three years is the statute of limitations in Massachusetts for charging someone with causing a personal injury.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman said he’s troubled that the clock on departmental charges begins ticking on the day an alleged misconduct incident occurs and not on the date when a complaint is made.
"Something could happen that nobody knows about -- the department is not aware of, the city is not aware of -- and then somebody comes forward after three months and we would not be in a position to pursue it," said Lederman. " I think that is the biggest concern people have."
After a two-year investigation, the Justice Department concluded that Springfield police narcotics officers routinely used excessive force violating people’s constitutional rights and falsified reports about it.
Police department leaders and Mayor Domenic Sarno insist they are committed to making changes that will satisfy the DOJ.
William Mahoney, the city’s director of labor relations, said the proposed contract with the police supervisors association is a step in the right direction.
"This is a postive for us," said Mahoney. " A lot of time there some give and take and we don't have a lot to give right now because of the pandemic."
Because of the economic hit the city has taken from the pandemic and the uncertainty about the future, Mahoney said the proposed contract is for one year – not the standard three-year agreement. The city is offering a 1.5 percent pay raise.
The association represents 70 members of the police department with the rank of captain, lieutenant and sergeant.
At a meeting of the Public Safety Committee Tuesday night, Ramos said he expects to bring the proposed contract to the full City Council for a possible vote on November 16th.
There is a similar statute of limitations on departmental charges contained in the contract with the much larger Springfield Police Patrolman’s Union.
Mahoney said negotiations on a new contract with that union are ongoing.