SPRINGFIELD – It’s been eight months since the city’s Board of Police Commissioners was formed, but commissioners on Monday expressed frustration that it continues to falter without clear guidance or administrative support from the city council.
“We are all confused,” Commissioner Robert Jackson said. “If we don’t seem to know what’s going on, it’s because we don’t know what’s going on.”
The commissioner met Monday afternoon with members of the city council’s Public Safety Committee to provide an update on progress so far. Jackson and the other commissioners – President Gary Bertie, members Madeleine Fernandez and Norman Roldan – expressed frustration at the lack of administrative support and its requirements under agreement decree approval Between the city and the US Department of Justice.
The agreement, reached in April, requires the city and police department to enact policies and practices to increase transparency and accountability. This came as a decision by a federal investigation that found that former DEA personnel routinely abused and abused the rights of drug suspects during arrests.
One requirement is that the Police Commissariat publish quarterly reports on its activities, including reviews of cases and procedures being handled. An annual city report is also required to be published.
Bertie said the commission had fallen behind in each of them, in part due to a lack of administrative support in its preparation.
“We are not sure how to do it properly. We do not have a management process to do it properly (but) we are required to develop it in the near future.”
Committee members were appointed by Mayor Dominic J. Sarno in March following a ruling from the Supreme Court of Justice.
The city had a police commission for decades, but it was discontinued in 2004 when the city adopted the form of a single police commissioner. The city council voted to restore the commission in 2016 but Sarno opposed it. This led to a six-year legal battle that ended with The Supreme Judicial Council, which ruled the Council, has the right to reinstate the commission.
Committee members spoke of similar frustrations and a lack of support at a meeting with the Public Safety Committee in May.
At Monday’s meeting, members said that not much had changed except that they had regressed further.
“There are a lot of moving parts. We need support. We need resources,” Bertie said.
City councilor and head of public safety Victor Davila said the lack of progress in resolving the same complaints from May signaled to him that the commission was being set up in failure.
“It seems to me that you are being undermined and I don’t like it,” he said.
He said the commission was created to play a critical role in restoring public confidence in the police department. Instead, it is ‘treated like a piñata’.
Counsellor Justin Hurst said, “We’re six months away and these are the same questions that should have been answered earlier.”
He recommended a commission document every time she asked for help because eventually she would be asked to account for her activities and it would be better to get receipts.
“You have to have documentation of what is happening and what is not happening,” he said.
“My recommendation is to make a list of your questions and send it to the mayor and city council,” he said. “You don’t want it to look like you’re not doing your job,” he said.
He said that if the committee continues not to get any satisfaction, the five members should consider mass resignations in protest.
“You are set up for failure,” he said.
Whitfield asked if the commission was in touch with the Department of Justice to ask about its role under the consent decree.
Bertie responded that he spoke with the Department of Justice via a phone call, but was not sure if he had direct contact with anyone there.
Whitfield said she had the phone number of US attorney Rachel Rollins and that she would call to find out.
Whitfield said the commissioners needed legal support “regardless of the power structure in Springfield. You need access to the tools you need to be successful.”
Bertie said the commission was set up as an independent channel to hear complaints about the police.
But he said that after six months, there is still a direct way for members of the public to reach the commissioners.
Complaints can be submitted at the police headquarters, at any neighborhood councils, or online. But they are all referred to the police department before the commission.
Complaints are reviewed by the Police Internal Affairs Unit to determine whether they are meritorious. Those who go to the police inspector and then present to the commission for a result.
Bertie said the commission has meeting space in the IIU office on 299 Pages Boulevard, a secure police department facility closed to the public without permission. He said the site was not suitable as a meeting place for the public.
The commissioner also does not have a dedicated phone line where members of the public can call and leave messages. Said this if someone was able to call and leave messages.
He said the commission is not listed anywhere on the Springfield City website, and anyone looking to contact the commission will appear blank,
Roldon said he found this troubling, too.
“We want to have the ability to reach people, to connect with us,” he said.
City attorney John Payne and Superintendent of Police Sherrill C.
“I am a little confused about their complaint,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t understand that.”
Payne said previous versions of the commission never had separate employees, but would use employees within the department when needed.
“I’m not sure what they want,” Clabrod said.
Neither of them was present at the Zoom meeting of the Public Safety Committee. Claprod said she was not notified that a meeting had been scheduled or that she had someone from her staff there.
Claprod said she did not understand the case because the committee did not have many cases to review. The Home Affairs Unit referred only two cases to the committee for review this summer. The number of complaints has declined and the number rising to the point of needing a police commission review, which Claprod attributed to the success of the body-worn camera program.
And to the extent that the public lodges complaints directly with the commission, she said that would be a terrible idea.
The department has a process for people To submit complaints, either in person or online. There is no reason for a complaint to go directly to the committee as a whole or to the individual commissioners.
Commissioners are supposed to hear cases and act with integrity. “This would be like calling the judge and asking him, ‘Will you listen to my case?'” “
If the commission wants a dedicated phone line or it is listed on the city’s webpage, it can be done, Payne said.
Part of the confusion about her role, Payne said, comes from when the commission was reborn.
At the time, the city was finalizing its ordinance of approval with the Department of Justice, and the city was working to meet state requirements from the newly formed Peace Personnel Standards and Training (POST) commission.
The City, as part of its consent decree, has appointed O’Toole Associates, LLC, as the compliance assessor.
The Compliance Assessor will work with the City and Department of Justice to identify non-compliance with a consent determination and to recommend ways to obtain compliance. The resident is not a substitute for the Police Commissariat.
Officials with O’Toole Associates will hold a public meeting on September 28 at the Raymond A. Jordan Senior Center, 1476 Roosevelt Ave. , starting at 6:30 p.m., to discuss his role.
City Council President Jesse Lederman has also scheduled a council meeting for October 5 at 5:30 p.m. in City Council rooms to discuss the police committee’s progress. He said he intends to hold similar meetings every three months, and that the public is invited to come or watch online.
Payne, Clabrod and Justice Department officials were invited.
“The implementation of the Board of Police Commissioners and the Ministry of Justice’s approval decree is of critical importance and deserves the continued attention of the entire city council,” he said.