Following order by Mass. high court, mayor appoints Springfield police commission

Police cruisers in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Courtesy The Springfield Republican/
Police cruisers in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Courtesy The Springfield Republican/

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has appointed members to the city's Board of Police Commissioners. The move comes after the mayor lost a legal battle over the formation of the board.

The Springfield City Council successfully sued Sarno, compelling him to abide by a 2018 ordinance that shifted oversight of the police department from a sole commissioner to a panel of five civilians.

A lower court ruled in favor of the council, and last week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed. Under the ordinance, Sarno retained the power to choose the members of the commission.

Four of his appointees were members of an existing advisory board, the Civilian Community Police Hearing Board, including Norman Roldan, a former Springfield School Committee member.

In an interview Wednesday, Roldan said it will be important for the new commission to build a relationship with both the community and police.

"We want to work with our agencies — our global agencies that are community based," he said. "We want to work with the police department to make sure that we're all on the same page going forward to help the city out."

The one member who wasn’t a member of the advisory board is Madeline Fernandez. Fernandez has worked with the Hampden County Sheriffs Department for two decades and currently is the director of its reentry program.

Fernandez said she hopes her new perspective, not being one of the four holdovers, will be an asset. She agreed with Roldan about working with the community.

"The understanding and the input of the community is very important," Fernandez said Wednesday. "In order for us to do our part, we have to understand what's happening on the outside, which is the community."

Fernandez said she is not sure who suggested her to Sarno for the position and that it was a whirlwind process becoming part of the commission.

"It was just basically an afternoon call yesterday, before I knew it, I was sitting in the mayor's office," she said. "He broke it down to me, 'I'm making a final decision,' and I said, 'Why not?'”

Sarno announced the selections in a press release Tuesday evening. They also include: Gary Berte, a criminal justice professor at Springfield College; Robert C. Jackson, who owns a security business; and retired human resources manager Albert Tranghese.

Earlier in the week, City Councilor Justin Hurst called on Sarno to use a transparent process to fill the commission. Hurst said that would give "the appearance to the general public that your intent is not to create a sham police commission that is only beholden to you and not the community that they should be serving."

The lack of a public application process didn’t sit well with Emurriel Holloway, with the Springfield chapter of the Mass. Senior Action Council. Holloway said the appointments by Sarno were "hasty" and a "snub" to the community.

"This lack of transparency perpetuates apparently the closed mindset that led to gross abuse of civil liberties in our community and calls for oversight in the first place," Holloway said.

Holloway also said since four of the five members were already part of the advisory board, she has little confidence that much will change about the police department.

A spokesperson for Sarno did not respond to a request for comment on the criticism.

In his press release Tuesday, Sarno praised the new commissioners as "very respected, dedicated and accomplished citizens of our city." He also noted that day-to-day operations of the police department will continue to be overseen by Cheryl Clapprood.

Police commissioner since 2019, Clapprood will now hold the title of police superintendent, according to the mayor's statement. The discipline of officers will fall to the commission. Sarno said it will have subpoena power, something the previous advisory board did not have.

The Springfield Police Department has been the center of controversy in recent years. The city has paid out millions of dollars to settle cases of officer misconduct, and its narcotics department was the subject of a scathing federal report in 2020 alleging a pattern of excessive force.

This story is a production of  New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media. 



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