Monday, January 11, 2010

Police officer to head new civilian police commission?

In a seemingly quick response to Thursday's news about another alleged instance of police use of excessive force, Springfield's Mayor Domenic Sarno announced today he intends to create a new civilian police commission-- one with disciplinary powers.  He announced that beginning Sunday, Captain Robert Cheetham will be in charge, not only of the new board, but also the entire Internal Affairs Unit.

I'm sure we'll hear more details tomorrow, but at the moment I have some questions.

First, when did Mayor Sarno actually find out about the November 27th "encounter" between Melvin Jones III and the four police officers, which left Melvin with partial loss of sight in one eye?  We the community found out last Thursday, when the Springfield Republican broke the story, along with accompanying video.  Turns out that city and police officials had had the video for several weeks.  So it seems as if Sarno's quick response was only quick if compared to the date of community outrage.

Second, not too make too long a process out of this, will Sarno be seeking community input into the structure and composition of this new civilian police commission

Third, what is the police union going to have to say about this?  I find it hard to believe the union will willingly allow its members to be disciplined by a structure outside the department.  (Not saying this shouldn't happen, but will it?)

Does anyone remember the April, 2007 report on the right form of community review of the police for the City of Springfield?  The city paid a pretty penny for it and that report shaped the current, toothless system of police oversight, but it did put its finger on one serious problem.  From the report by Jack McDevitt and Amy Farrell:
The single most significant challenge facing the City of Springfield as they establish a new Civilian Review Board is the time constraints that the department is operating under as part of the existing Collective bargaining agreement. The current police contract for the Springfield Police Department requires a disposition of all complaints within 90 days. The current contact specifies:

        All interdepartmental charges against a unit member shall be initiated no later
        than ninety (90) days following the alleged offense or the date the City became
        aware of the alleged offense whichever is later, and a hearing on said charges
        shall be held within six (60) days thereafter, unless a later date is mutually
        agreed upon by the parties (Article 6, Section 4).

This requirement creates a major obstacle to any complaint review process adopted in
Springfield. Thus, the review model chosen for the city most work within the confines of
the existing 90 day disposition requirement. Very few police agencies across the country
face similar constraints when they attempt to establish an external review process.
Last question, but scarcely the least important: what is going to happen to Officer Jeffrey Asher and the other three officers?

Watching the community forum the last few days, I've wondered why the pro-police commenters, who are often the same people who think Melvin Jones III got what was coming to him, don't realize something very basic: that much of our community will not be able to turn to the police as part of the solution to a safe community until we ourselves feel safe intersecting with the police. A few bad cops are allowed to poison the atmosphere, and why other officers and the department in general put up with it, I just don't know.

1 comment:

peacesojourner said...

Thank you Michaelann for this informative post.

Investigation of police brutality is a topic on which I have spent many hours (time) over the years. The action of police investigating police brutality can be a conflict of interest.
I am aware of several incidents in the past years where the investigation did not reveal improper behavior by police officers, even when there was evidence (especially when caught on tape) which proved that some brutality had actually happened.

The majority of the abused are younger African American men and women, however, there have been times when other races and also the very elderly have been hurt by police officers.

It has often been suggested that a Civilian Revue Board be established. The participants should not be appointed by the 'officials' but instead be elected by members of the community. The board should also be a body of persons who will be taken seriously.

I respect police officers but history has shown there are just a few who give the majority a bad name. I know that they must get sick of this negative reputation when they are serving the community well. I wish that they would have the courage to speak out against the brutality that they have seen done by other police officers.

The name of Jeffrey Asher is well known in the Springfield community and he has a very negative reputation.

I would also suggest that the people in the community demand that the actual amounts of money that have been paid out to civilians, over the years, in civil suits against the police department be made public information. I have tried to get those figures myself but they were never revealed - it should be public information. I firmly believe that if the local taxpayers knew these actual financial figures they would be furious that their money was being spent like this. I can tell you that collectively it has been millions of dollars.

Keep up the good work. Thanks for listening.