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Springfield police commissioners tell city councilors they need more help, resources from the city

Springfield Board of Police Commissioners member Madeline Fernandez (left) speaks with residents after the first meeting of the board held Monday, April 12, 2022.
Elizabeth Román
Springfield Board of Police Commissioners member Madeline Fernandez (left) speaks with residents after the first meeting of the board held Monday, April 12, 2022.

The chair of Springfield's police commission said his board is not getting everything it needs from the city to do its job.

The civilian panel was re-established by the city council to handle police discipline cases.

During a meeting this week of the Springfield City Council's Public Safety Committee, commission chair Gary Berte said there has not been enough support and direction given on how to issue required reports on its work. He also said its hard for the public to reach board members since there is no dedicated phone line or a website.

"Can't find out anything about us, there's no contact information, (this) needs to be remedied as well," Berte said. "There's a lot of moving parts. I'm not trying to make an excuse, but we do need support and we do need resources."

Springfield city solicitor John Payne said the website issue can be fixed, but he is concerned the public could contact police commissioners looking to file complaints against police officers directly.

"If they start taking the complaints, how are they going to sit as the judges on disciplinary hearings that might result from that complaint?" Payne said during an interview Wednesday, a day after the meeting.

Currently, a form is available for the public to file a complaint, which is then looked at internally by the police department. If warranted, it is reviewed by the department's superintendent before potentially being passed on to the commission.

Payne went on to say that meetings will likely be held with individual police commission members to review their duties and responsibilities.

During the public safety committee's meeting, councilors pledged their support of the commission's work.

City Councilor Victor Davila, who chairs the public safety committee, said he was upset the police commission was being "undermined."

City Councilor Justin Hurst suggested the unpaid commissioners consider resigning all together if the situation doesn't improve in order to protect themselves.

Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood was not present at the meeting and her spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

The board of police commissioners in Springfield was reestablished earlier this year after a long battle between Mayor Domenic Sarno and the city council. The council twice passed ordinances looking to bring back civilian oversight of the police, and both times Sarno took no action. The disagreement eventually wound its way to the state Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled in the council's favor. The appointees to the board are all selected by the mayor, who announced his picks in March.

The return of the police commission after nearly two decades came shortly before the city and federal Department of Justice agreed to a consent decree, which seeks to reform the embattled police department. It is in response to ascathing 2020 D.O.J. report, which alleged officers in the former narcotics bureau of the Springfield police regularly used violence against suspects. In the agreement, there is a provision stating the city "will ensure that the Board of Police Commissioners has the resources to fulfill its responsibilities, including, but not limited to, budget, staffing, compensation, training, and capacity."

A compliance monitor, O'Toole Associates, was hired by the city to ensure Springfield is abiding by the terms of the consent decree.

Berte, the police commission chair, said members of his board are due to meet with the firm next week. A meeting is also scheduled next week for the public to find out more about the monitor's function.

And separately, City Council President Jesse Lederman has called a full council meeting Oct. 5 to discuss how the commission is proceeding with its work.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.