It was a packed room in Springfield's City Hall Thursday night.
The public safety committee held a public hearing on whether or not the city should resurrect a police commission with members appointed by the mayor to oversee police department policy, appointments, promotions and disciplinary matters.
Emotions were high as members of the public spoke strongly about why they believe a five-person police commission is the right move for Springfield.
"We just need checks and balances, that's all we need, something fair for ourselves but also for our constituents and residents," said Randy Blake, Local 648 Union president for the Springfield Fire Department.
Blake is just one of more than a dozen city residents who stood up and spoke during the public hearing in support of a police commission to take over when Springfield police Commissioner William Fitchet retires later this year.
"I think it's healthy to have a debate. I think the decision, ultimately, is up to the mayor," said Fitchet.
Fitchet says he respects the opinions of those in attendance but that the meeting was not about hearing anecdotal stories about their experiences with the police.
City Councilor Melvin Edwards disagrees and says he hears those stories loud and clear.
"I am in favor of the police commission. I believe if crime was lower, if people were, as you heard from the testimony, not scared of the police and we have more positive interaction, we wouldn't need to be having this conversation," Edwards said.
Edwards says he respects the commissioner and his position but says it's time for a change.
"This has never been about the individual. It's about the lack of confidence by the people that are served by this system," he said.
Public safety committee Chairman Tom Ashe said after the hearing that the issue is certainly passionate on both sides but he is still in support of keeping the system Springfield has now - one commissioner with final say and a seven-member community police hearing board with the power to investigate complaints of police misconduct.
"I feel that the system we have in place is in the best interest of the people of the city and that those decisions revolving and regarding around the police department should be made by professionals," Ashe said.
Mayor Domenic Sarno has also said he is opposed to the commission. The proposed ordinance will be sent back to the council for further debate on March 3.
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