SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced significant changes in the city on Tuesday following ongoing discussions on police and race relations.
The announcement comes as municipalities across the country address concerns following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
On Tuesday, Sarno declared racism a public health crisis and announced three ways in which he wants to fight back.
However, first, he began his remarks with an apology.
“I meant no disrespect or any ill intent to our Black community on the reinstatement of the five officers who were involved in the Nathan Bill’s incident,” Sarno said.
Sarno apologized for police actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The five officers, accused of assaulting four men while off- duty, had been suspended, but were brought back on reportedly to help a short-staffed police department.
“I have asked police commissioner Cheryl Clapprood to re-suspend these five officers,” Sarno added.
Next, Sarno declared racism a public health crisis and will establish an Office of Racial Equity within the city’s Health and Human Services Department.
His last measure, the most questioned in the conference, involved sending an ordinance to the city council, asking to give subpoena power to the civilian Community Police Hearing Board.
“This is the second or maybe third time I’ve tried to send this to the council and they have not moved on it, but that’s a key thing that they have the power and the authority to bring anyone and any information in,” Sarno noted.
Sarno’s Community Police Hearing Board has come under fire from the city council. They said it only has the ability to recommend discipline to the police commissioner, who then makes the final decision on officer misconduct.
Members of the council would like to give hiring, firing, and disciplinary power to a police commission board.
“He made the decision that we were taking too long. We have to do our due diligence and be thorough,” said city councilor Tracye Whitfield.
Whitfield spoke with us following a demonstration of the new police body camera program.
As Western Mass News showed you last week in a separate demonstration, the body cameras will be worn by all the officers at the end of the summer.
SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WHSM) -- Springfield police now have 17 officers wearing body cameras …
“All I’m reading is that it’s improving relations and I think that’s exactly what’s gonna happen in the city of Springfield,” Whitfield added.
Whitfield supports the mayor’s decision to re-suspend the five officers involved in the Nathan Bill’s case. However, she disagrees with the mayor’s contention the Community Police Hearing Board is the best way to discipline officers.
“I don’t think one person, whether we have subpoena power or not, should make decisions on behalf of all the officers in the police department. I think that there needs to be more accountability,” Whitfield added.
Whitfield said she was impressed by the police body cameras, which are triggered by an officer’s emergency lights activating.
Officers also have the power to manually turn the cameras on.