Springfield City Council Consider Legal Action to Restore Civilian Police Board
SPRINGFIELD – City council is due to meet on Tuesday to consider authorizing legal action as part of its long-standing efforts to restore civilian oversight of police in Springfield.
The special meeting is at 5 p.m. and takes place remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed order to allow legal action is under consideration following closed-door meetings in recent weeks between council and two pro bono lawyers. The lawyers, Thomas Lesser and Michael Aleo, of Northampton, offered their services in June.
The council approved an ordinance to create a five-member police commission in 2016, override a veto by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. The council took a similar vote to create the commission in 2018. The mayor, however, did not make any appointments to the commission, claiming the ordinance is legally invalid, as attorney for the city Edward Pikula.
A police commission existed in Springfield for decades before the state-appointed Financial Control Board eliminated it and replaced it with a single police commissioner system in 2005.
In recent years, Sarno has argued that the police department is headed by a single police commissioner, with a citizens’ advisory council.
Advisers say legal action may be the solution to re-establishing civilian police oversight.
“We have to commit to getting a judge’s ruling on the validity of the order that city council has passed, or we have to move on,” Chairman Justin Hurst said on Friday.
The debate has been going on for years, said Hurst.
“The vote that takes place on Tuesday, if it is in favor, will give our lawyers, whom the city council has already retained, the right to file a dispute on behalf of the council, asking for the application of the municipal code of the city of Springfield which establish the council of police commissioners, ”Hurst said.
Councilor Jesse Lederman said the issue was a long-standing dispute between the mayor and council.
“It is very important for us to resolve this dispute and move the city forward,” Lederman said. “That’s what Tuesday’s debate is.”
Last year, Sarno submitted a proposal to the council to expand the powers of the current nine-member Community Policing Hearing Panel. The proposal includes granting the board subpoena powers while investigating allegations of police misconduct.
The advisers did not follow up on Sarno’s proposal, in accordance with the order of the Civil Police Commission.
The existing advisory committee can make recommendations on the discipline of officers, but decisions rest with the police commissioner. Appointed last year, Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said she has always supported or exceeded the council’s recommendations.
The decree proposed by the council to authorize legal action states that such action is necessary “to bring the administration into conformity with the ordinances of the city”.
The Tuesday board meeting can be watched live on Springfield Comcast Channel 17 or at https://livestream.com/focusspringfield/citycouncil.