City Council Sub-Committee Debates Bringing Back Police Commission
SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — Hiring, firing, and other big decisions for the Springfield Police Department-the job of a commissioner or a commission?
That’s the question that brought three hours of debate Thursday in city hall chambers.
“Police commission needs to have authority, power, to hire, to fire to discipline,” Councilor Bud Williams said.
“I hear a lot of discussion going back and forth,” one speaker said. “Honestly, I do not know if the commission would be the best answer.”
Police Commissioner William Fitchet, who will retire this spring, says it’s not.
“If you are going to have responsibility, you should have authority to run it and nobody knows your personnel better than the person that is the police commissioner,” Commissioner Fitchet told the crowd.
Currently, citizen complaints are investigated by internal affairs, police command staff, and a diverse community police board made of fellow citizens. They recommend discipline to Fitchet, who has final determination. Fitchet says in his seven years, he’s followed the board’s recommendations 100% of the time. Meanwhile, an internal police committee handles hiring issues.
“When you do promotions you have a committee that will interview the candidates they know the candidates for dozens of years usually, they know their personnel and it takes the politics out of promotions,” Fitchet said.
But others like the police union and the local NAACP say that a citizen police board should have more teeth and the final say on both hiring and discipline issues so that there’s more community trust. Retired officer and lifelong resident Erwin Driskel agrees.
“You become close with your men, you know you graduate classes together , your kids are their kids and they have god parents and everything else and sometimes you lose perspective of what’s right and what’s wrong because this is your family,” Driskel said.
The city council would need seven votes to move the police commission forward, but Mayor Domenic Sarno has stated that he will veto the idea. He feels the current set-up is most appropriate. The council, however, could override the Mayor Sarno’s veto if they can get nine votes in favor of the commission.
The public safety commission will now move the matter to the entire council, where debate is expected on March 3rd.