Councilors say the time is now to install a police commissi…
SPRINGFIELD – Springfield City Councilors see the unexpected retirement of Police Commissioner John Barbieri as an opportunity for Mayor Domenic Sarno to put into place the police commission created by the council’s ordinance.
At a press event, several said they may go so far as initiating a lawsuit against the city in order for Sarno to accept the ordinance that would create a civilian police commission to hire, fire and discipline officers, while creating a police chief who would be running the department on a day-to-day basis.
“I think everything is on the table,” City Council President Justin Hurst said.
Sarno announced on Feb. 21 that Deputy Chief Cheryl Clapprood would become the acting commissioner. In an email interview, Sarno told Reminder Publishing Barbieri’s retirement was “a mutually agreed upon decision and I believe in the best interest of the department and our city.”
He denied that any of the controversies created by incidents between some members of the Police Department and the public – situations that have drawn the attention of the department of Justice and the Massachusetts Attorney General – motivated the sudden retirement.
Sarno released a statement: “I have accepted Police Commissioner John Barbieri’s retirement today. I want to take the opportunity to commend Commissioner Barbieri on his 31 years of dedicated service and the many innovative programs that he has initiated within our Police Department. I’d also like to note that there has been a 45 percent reduction in overall crime in the last five years. The safety of our citizens has always been my number one priority and that will not change. I am pleased to announce that I have named Deputy Chief Cheryl Clapprood to become Acting Police Commissioner. She has served with distinction and honor for 39 years. In particular, I would like to cite her work on the C3 Community Policing effort, which has been very successful. I look at this as a new beginning for our Police Department and an opportunity to improve upon our procedures and programs. As always I am very grateful to the men and women in blue, who put their lives on the line every day – many times in very dangerous situations – to protect our citizens. In the near future I’ll be considering a search process.”
Eight City Councilors gathered on the steps of City Hall on Feb. 22 to push for Sarno’s acceptance of their ordinance.
City Council President Justin Hurst said there are “systemic issues plaguing our Police Department.” He added, “We will not stand idle until we see a police commission enacted.
Councilor Tim Ryan praised Barbieri as “hard-working and decent,” but called the position of police commissioner as “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to disciplining officers.”
Councilor Melvin Edward said the civil service process requires revision and called upon the Legislature to undertake reform.
On Feb. 25, Sarno announced that Clapprood has begun examining an incident at the High School of Commerce in which video shows a physical confrontation between an officer and a student. In a written statement, Sarno said, “Acting Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has informed me she will be reviewing new evidence received involving past incidents of misconduct to consider whether new charges could lead to terminations. In addition, she has strengthened policies for handling disruptive conduct in the lobby of the Police Department. And finally she has arranged for our Community Police Hearing Board (CPHB) to hold a hearing to review the event at the High School of Commerce.”
Clapprood said, “Police officers, who will never be productive officers for our City, just bring down morale of the Department and compromise the trust of our community.”