Mayor Domenic J. Sarno is seeking professional input from nationally recognized experts concerning the City Council’s latest proposal to reinstate the former Board of Police Commissioners. Mayor Sarno has contacted the Police Executive Research Forum, (PERF) an organization of law enforcement officials and others dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing, to seek input on the latest proposal to reinstate the former Board in an effort to make sure the City institutes best practices.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno stated, “My position has been well defined – keep it professional, not political, and legally sound. The modern day model of a professional police commissioner administering and directing the department is the trend across the country, and has worked well here. This is indicated by the 45% reduction of overall crime in the last five years. As we continue to work with PERF and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the last thing they would want us to do is go backwards to a now deemed antiquated system.”
The latest City Council proposal seeks to demote the Police Commissioner to be subservient to the all-volunteer civilian board that is only required to meet once a month. The proposal provides: “the Employment Agreement by and between The City of Springfield Massachusetts and John Barbieri, dated April 1, 2014 shall remain in effect however he shall be subject to the Board of Police Commissioners.” Further, the proposed Ordinances provides that the ”rules and regulations for the government and discipline of the Police Department as adopted and promulgated by the former Board of Police Commissioners in the year 1981 . . . are adopted as and shall continue to be the lawful rules for the maintenance of the Department . . . “.
PERF has been under contract with the City to review and re-engineer the police department policies in a strategy for building police-community trust. Their first report with regard to the investigation of police misconduct complaints and recommendations for reform is expected to be complete in December.
In addition, the Mayor, Police Commissioner, members of the police command staff, and City Solicitor, met in April of this year with the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, as well as representatives of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The meeting opened an independent federal investigation to bring to light any persistent patterns of misconduct within the former Narcotics Unit of the Springfield Police Department. That investigation is ongoing and the City continues to cooperate with that agency to identify and remedy any problems as a major step in repairing mistrust between the community and the police; and bring about policing that is lawful, effective, and responsive to community needs.
In addition to the policy concerns, City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula raised issues as to the legality of the latest proposal: “While the proposal has removed the defect from the last proposal that required City Council approval of Board Members, it still conflicts with the City Charter as well as state statutes granting the Mayor authority, as well as the Police Commissioner’s contract granting him authority to run the Police Department, establish rules and discipline.”
The Control Board amended the City Ordinances to create the Position of Police Commissioner, and consolidated all powers of the Police Commission under the new Police Commissioner position. This is consistent with the City Charter, that states that “all heads of departments and members of municipal boards” shall be appointed “by the mayor without confirmation by the city council”. (Mass. Gen. Law ch. 43, § 52). As such, under the Charter, the appointment of the Police Commissioner was granted to the Mayor.
The positon of Police Commissioner in the Ordinances was designed to work in conjunction with state law. Specifically, separate and apart from any Ordinance, the Mayor of Springfield is also authorized by the General Laws of Massachusetts to establish an employment contract for the “salary, fringe benefits, and other conditions of employment, including but not limited to, severance pay, relocation expenses, reimbursement for expenses incurred” in the performance of the duties of a Police or Fire “Chief”. See Mass. Gen. Law, ch. 41, §108O.Added by St.1995, c. 289, § 1.
That statute also states in relevant part: “Any city or town acting through its appointing authority, [in Springfield, the Mayor] may establish an employment contract . . . [for] its police chief and fire chief, or a person performing such duties having a different title. . . Said contract shall prevail over any conflicting provision of any local personnel by-law, ordinance, rule or regulation.” (emphasis added).
“This model is likely to expose the City to more civil liability by ignoring professionalization and best practices. In addition, an Ordinance, attempting to take away the authority of the Mayor to enter into a contract with the Police Commissioner to run the Department would conflict, not only with the City Charter, but with this Massachusetts state statute, as well as the existing Police Commissioner contract,” Solicitor Pikula noted. The Police Commissioner contract, maintained by the Ordinance, grants the Police Commissioner authority to establish rules for the Department, hire, promote, discipline and terminate officers. That authority conflicts with the proposed Ordinance amendment.