Supreme Judicial Court rules in favor of five-person board of police commissioners | News


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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) – A major ruling by the state’s highest court is impacting the Springfield Police Department. The Supreme Judicial Court has sided with the Springfield City Council over Mayor Domenic Sarno when it comes to how the city’s police department is managed.

This has been a long-standing fight between Mayor Sarno and the Springfield City Council. Now, the state’s highest appellate court has weighed in, and this ruling will mean a change at the top at the Springfield Police Department.

“Our hope is that the five-member commission will be a lot more productive than what it is that we have right now,” said Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst. “We’re hoping that we will have members of the city residents serving on that police commission, and it will be a platform in which we can hold individuals accountable.”

Tuesday marked a major victory for the City Council of Springfield after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court upheld a Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the City Council reorganizing the police department to be headed by a five-person board of commissioners, something Mayor Domenic Sarno has fought against for several years.

“We knew from the very beginning that this is what the court should rule,” said Councilor Hurst. “We knew when the Superior Court ruled that we have the power to organize the departments, we have the power to create a police commission.”

Currently, the Mayor appoints a single police commissioner who has the ability to hire, fire, and discipline police officers on the force. With this new commission in place, there would be five people appointed to run the department, as well as a police chief who would run the department’s daily operations.

Current Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood weighed in on the ruling, releasing a statement, saying:

Since I’ve become Commissioner I believe we have made great strides in modernizing the Springfield Police Department in difficult times. Since I implemented the Body Worn Camera program the level of transparency has never been higher while the number of force complaints has never been lower. Working with the Community Police Hearing Board I have been a strong disciplinarian by holding officers accountable for their actions.

At the same time, I am under contract as the Commissioner of the police department through May 2024. The Mayor asked me to take on this important task and I continue to give my all to rebuild the image of our department through instilling values in our young officers so that they take pride in this profession.

I’ll await word from the Mayor and the law department as to what any next steps may be. Until then I will continue to do this job to the best of my ability to support the women and men of the Springfield Police Department, our community and the Mayor.

Mayor Sarno also released a statement, saying:

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today determined that the City Council has the right to require me to appoint a Board of Police Commissioners. I accept that responsibility.

At the same time, the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision did nothing at all to diminish in any way my authority as Mayor to appoint and determine the responsibilities of that individual who is charged with the management and operation of the Springfield Police Department. I will continue to exercise that responsibility.

We will work within the guidance of the decision and under the prevailing statutes and laws of the Commonwealth, and prevailing ordinances of the City of Springfield, to comply with the decision and to maintain the high standards of public safety.

Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood will lead the Springfield Police Department, as she continues to move the department forward.

The Board of Police Commissioners is to perform, as the SJC noted an ‘oversight function’ but not a ‘daily managerial function’. The day-to-day duties concerning the operation of the police department, including ‘command and control’ of all department members, professional standards, as well as hiring, promotions, and as well as assignments, will continue to be performed by a full-time police professional, Cheryl Clapprood.

However, I will have the Board of Police Commissioners, with the subpoena power authority I have long sought, to conduct hearings on disciplinary matters for the benefit of the Department. The Board will determine the conditions of discipline, termination, dismissal and reappointment. I will be naming the five (5) member board shortly.

Hurst told us that he believes this new commission will be in the best interest for the people of Springfield.

“The fact that a judge on multiple levels saw it that way certainly means that we were doing our job, and we’re hopeful that the administration will do theirs,” he said. “The city of Springfield should call it a victory.”

Reactions also came from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council who welcomed the ruling, with a statement saying, in part:

A new civilian police commission will bring much needed transparency to the police force and help begin the process of building trust within the community.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sarno said that he will be naming the 5 member board of police commissioners shortly.

We will continue following this story and bring you the latest updates both on air and online.

Copyright 2022. Western Mass News (WGGB/WSHM). All rights reserved.

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