SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield City Council is moving forward with a plan to restore control of the city’s police department to a civilian commission, but Mayor Domenic Sarno says that the council does not even have the authority to do so.
Monday night, the council approved the first of three steps to eliminate the office of police commissioner.
Under the proposal, the police commission would be in charge of hiring, promotions, and disciplinary matters. Day-to-day operations would be managed by a civil service chief of police.
Springfield City Councilor Kateri Walsh told 22News, a majority of the city council is in agreement over the change. “We’re all coming from the same direction that we want something good, positive, and calming to happen in the city of Springfield,” she said.
The plan would return the police department to the way that it was run more than a decade ago. The current system, in which the department is run by a commissioner, was first put into place by the Finance Control Board, which held power in the city in the early-to-mid 2000’s.
Dave Williams of Springfield told 22News he believes they would be better off going back to the old system. “I think it’s a good idea, and the reason is you don’t have one person making decisions, you have multiple people making decisions about the discipline of the police officers,” he said.
City councilors have called for the change after some high-profile incidents involving police officers. Detective Gregg Bigda was suspended for 60 days after he allegedly threatened young suspects who were being held in a jail cell following a chase. Multiple off-duty police officers have also been accused of attacking a group of men outside an East Forest Park bar in an incident last year.
Mayor Domenic Sarno has expressed his opposition to the proposal, saying that the former system was antiquated. He also said that the city’s form of government prevents the council from making such decisions on departments altogether. He said in a statement sent to 22News:
Every decision I have made since I stepped into this office has been in the best interest of our city- this is no different. Our Police Department needs to be run by professionals. We are following a national model used across the country.
Again, under the Plan A Strong Mayor form of government, the City Council cannot legally usurp the Mayor’s statutory power/authority under our charter. I will not allow our Police Department to be politicized. Again, under our charter, it is the role of the Mayor to organize departments. This is the function of the Chief Executive Officer. Our goal here is to continue to get the repeat violent offenders off our streets and not to coddle or glorify them.