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Community Complaint Review Board continues work

Date: 12/22/2009

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Only a handful of citizens attended the public meeting of the Community Complaint Review Board (CCRB) last Wednesday, but Chair Edgar Alejandro said he still received some good input.

The board, which was created in October 2007 by then-Mayor Charles Ryan after the dissolution of the Police Commission, scheduled the public meeting to present draft recommendations outlining some proposed shifts in its powers, responsibilities and focus for the future. Under its current executive order, the board is charged to act as a liaison between the public and the police department in cases involving complaints of excessive force.

However, as the board is currently structured, members examine the outcome of complaints after the investigation has been completed by the police department.

"We basically review [the reports] to make sure the investigation was done and that it is complete and thorough, but it is a paper review," Alejandro said. After 18 to 20 months of implementing this [new structure] we're saying that this does not represent the community or give access to the community in the voice that it deserves."

Alejandro said the six recommendations presented by the board at the Dec. 9 meeting seek to "expand the role of the existing review board."

Those recommendations, reprinted with permission from documents circulated at the meeting, are as follows:

1. The CCRB recommends that it play a greater role in Police Department hiring, promotions and dicipline beyond its current scope which involves a review of Internal Investigation Unit and Citizen Complaints involving allegations of excessive force.

Alejandro told Reminder Publicaitons that the former Police Commission, which was replaced by the CCRB, had authority over a wide range of police issues, including hirings, firings, budgets and investigations. "The police chief reported to the Police Commission [ under the old sturcture]," he said.

2. Springfield police officers should prepare written accounts of incidents individually without having the option of reviewing statements prepared by other officers as a frame of reference.

3. The CCRB recommends that it be provided access to a computerized Internal Investigation Unit tracking system.

4. The CCRB recommends that the notification process be expanded to ensure notifications of cases reviewed by the CCRB are communicatied to complainants and the public.

5. The CCRB recommends that the Springfield Police Deaprtment consider the use of a mediation process for the reolution of citizen complaints.

6. The CCRB intends to conduct public sessions, as needed, for citizens to air complaints directly to the CCRB members. There will be a quarterly meeting minimum.

"We want to have more transparency and right now, because of the fact that we come into the process at the end and do a paper review, we've gotten feedback that maybe it wasn't an in-depth investigation," Alejandro said of the recommendations.

He said at the meeting, a citizen added the recommendation that "the review board be engaged in the investigative process much earlier on."

He said the board would like to get involved with a complaint "either when it is registered or very early on to allow members of the committee to interview complainants and the officers."

Alejandro said the members of the CCRB, which include himself, Co-Chair Terry Aberdale, Rev. Amos Bailey, Carol Lewis-Caulton, Corrine Durham, Robert Jackson, Miguel Soto and Hector Santos, voted unanimously on the above recommendations.

In a summary of the draft recommendation, the board writes "The changes recommended here would help ensure that the continued work of the CCRB is recognized by the community as providing a level of accountability expected by all citizens in the community, without interfering with the need for the police officers to have the authority to fight crime. It is the belief of the CCRB that an increased public perception of police accountability will have a positive influence in obtaining community cooperation in solving crimes and tipping the scales against criminals."

Acknowledging that "not all changes may be feasible," such as input into collective bargaining issues, the draft recommendations as presented have been tentatively appproved by the board, Alejandro said.

At press time he was not certain if the CCRB would host another public meeting on the recommendations, but hoped that the final draft could be completed by late January.

It will then be presented to Mayor Domenic Sarno for his review, amendment or approval.