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Letter from Rev. Talbert W. Swan, II, President Greater Springfield NAACP, to the City Council Public Safety Committee.

Letter from Rev. Talbert W. Swan, II, President Greater Springfield NAACP, to the City Council Public Safety Committee.

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Published by Patrick Johnson
Letter from Rev. Talbert W. Swan, II, President
Greater Springfield NAACP, to the City Council Public Safety Committee regarding the creation of a police commission to oversee the police department.
Letter from Rev. Talbert W. Swan, II, President
Greater Springfield NAACP, to the City Council Public Safety Committee regarding the creation of a police commission to oversee the police department.

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Published by: Patrick Johnson on Feb 20, 2014
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02/20/2014

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February 20, 2014 Springfield City Council Public Safety Committee Councilor Tom Ashe, Chair 36 Court Street Springfield, MA 01103 Re: Police Commission Dear Councilors: There is simply no better way to begin this statement than with an affirmation of the excellent job that most Springfield Police Department officers do. Words cannot express how much it is appreciated that they literally put their lives on the line with each shift worked. Furthermore, I have strongly supported the leadership of our Police Commissioner, William Fitchett and advocated for his appointment. Despite the advances made under Commissioner Fitchet’s leadership, far too many Springfield citizens still experience unjust targeting, humiliation, loss of physical freedom, and even physical harm at the hands of a relatively few Springfield Police officers. The facts show that this is neither a new phenomenon, nor simply the perspectives of a few Springfield activists. Many Springfield residents have lost faith in the complaint process as it stands now, and some even believe that they will suffer retaliation by using it. It is possible to protect and serve Springfield residents without violating the integrity of the police profession and without infringing on the civil rights of any. It is also possible to have an organization that Springfield residents can trust that is concerned about positive police-community relations. In order to do this we must map out the compelling need for a civilian review board that is empowered with statutory authority and free to act in the best interests of citizens without political pressure. The control board imposed retirement of former police chief Paula Meara, the abolishment of the police commission and the creation of the position of Police Commissioner has muted the voice of citizens from the process of police accountability. Springfield has been in a unique position for several years to create a new paradigm for police-community relations. Unfortunately, while most Springfield citizens believe in the necessity of independent, civilian oversight of the Springfield
 
 
Police Department (SPD) and its complaint system, the mayor and some city councilors have asserted that there are no problems with the current system. The recent legal opinion by the law department is both biased and factually inaccurate. Previous mayors had no obligation to “agree” with or support a police commission in order for its operations or existence to be legally valid. The police commission was a part of city government from the inception of the Plan A strong mayor form of government and no mayor has ever had veto power to abolish the commission. Please do not allow legal calisthenics on the part of Attorney Ed Pikula and the law department through its myopic legal opinion to thwart the city council from doing what is responsible and necessary to fulfill the substantial, longstanding, and unmet need for an independent means of public accountability for the Springfield Police Department. A true civilian board with statutory authority should not be tossed aside for an advisory panel that meets in private and has no legal authority. The functions of a civilian review board (CRB) for our city should be as follows: 1. To establish the principle of police accountability by investigating and hearing citizen complaints on police activity. To ensure that citizens with grievances have a place to turn and thereby to help discourage police misconduct. 2. To promote community awareness as to the citizen's opportunity to file a complaint concerning police misconduct and to disseminate information as to how and where to file a complaint. 3. To educate the public as to its rights in dealing with the police and about the merits of civilian oversight. 4. To make concrete recommendations about police policies and procedures and to suggest improvements in training and to alert police administrators to the steps they must take to curb abuse. 5. To hold regular monthly meetings that are open to the public so that citizens and representatives of organizations can voice criticisms, make proposals, and introduce resolutions to review or reform specific police practices. 6. To create and utilize an "early warning" or "at-risk" system to identify officers who are the subject of repeated complaints. 7. To publish a semi-annual report listing the numbers of: complaints received; complaints investigated; hearings held; complaints withdrawn; and local, state, and federal cases filed against the police department. Of course, the disposition of the complaints should be provided. 8. To forge a relationship with local prosecutors as well as the Offices of the State Attorney General and the US Attorney. Complaints alleging serious allegations should be forwarded to the relevant prosecuting agencies for appropriate action.

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