Councilor calls for police board
Saturday, January 24, 2009SPRINGFIELD - A city councilor says that he will sponsor a city ordinance to resurrect the Police Commission, having lost faith in a mayoral advisory board that currently reviews citizen complaints against the police.
By PETER GOONAN
"It needs to be corrected," said City Councilor Bud L. Williams this week, in proposing the ordinance. "We need to go back to the Police Commission so residents will have full trust in the system."
Williams's action comes after news that the nine-member Community Complaint Review Board recently evaluated a case involving a man shot by police during a traffic stop, without ever speaking to the injured person or his lawyer.
"I am at the end of the road with this process after the latest situation," Williams said. "I am not saying people are innocent or guilty, but there should have been an airing out. The transparency isn't there. Things are done behind closed doors."
A five-member Police Commission was abolished in 2005, and its disciplinary powers were shifted to the newly created position of police commissioner.
Thomas T. Walsh, a spokesman for Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, said that Williams's proposed ordinance would be "null and void" because it would conflict with the ordinance creating the police commissioner, approved by the city's Finance Control Board.
Denise R. Jordan, the review board coordinator and Sarno's chief-of-staff, said that Williams supported the review board when it was created in September 2007 by former Mayor Charles V. Ryan. The board serves to review civilian complaints against the police and to serve as a link with the community.
The review board, as requested by the mayor, is evaluating if its scope, and authority should change, said Jordan.
Williams is among councilors who have been critical of the review board because of its closed-door meetings and strictly advisory nature.
Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett, ruled last September that the board is not bound by the state's Open Meeting Law, because it is strictly advisory to the mayor and police commissioner, and not a governmental body.
"All I want is transparency and an open process," Williams said. "I don't care what the district attorney and mayor say. It's just not right."
Walsh said the review board never spoke to the person shot, Louis Jiles, 18, or his lawyer, because it was not within the board's charter. It reviews "the determination made by the Internal Investigation Unit to make sure the findings were thorough and fair," he said.