Police reform is a nationally trending topic as demonstrators continue to protest killings of Black people. Meanwhile, activists are calling for changes they say would address concerns regarding the Springfield Police Department.
Community leaders continue to meet to explore potential police reform. Black Lives Matter Springfield has held a series of off-record conversations with police in recent months. On Sept. 22, the mayor and police chief joined the Faith Coalition for the Common Good and other advocacy organizations, including the local Black Lives Matter chapter, to talk openly about police misconduct review and residency requirements.
Roy Williams Jr., president of the faith-based social justice advocacy group, started the meeting by clarifying the meeting's intent. "This is not an anti-police situation. This is not a 'defund the police' situation." The mission was to work toward what advocates see as solutions to better community and police relations.
"With everything going on around the country right now, I think our country and our community is more divided than it's ever been," Springfield police chief Kenny Winslow said during opening remarks. "It's each and every one of our responsibilities to bring that community together to form a better and improved profession and society." Regular evolution within police practices is needed, he offered, but change must be evidence-based and balanced.
Tyrese Thomas is co-founder of In Black Ink, a nonprofit based in Springfield and focused on equality. He told meeting attendees that the inactivity of the Police Community Review Commission was troubling. He questioned why the board was largely composed of those with a background in law enforcement. It appears the commission exists "not to provide transparency, but simply lip service, and possibly even protect officers who have been engaged in various acts of misconduct," he said.
Thomas questioned the amount of internal affairs complaints in 2019. "We believe that 24 complaints is artificially low because the process to report is obscured and exclusionary." He said information about the review commission should be easier to access for residents.
"The community review board, without the input of the actual community, seems to be entirely ineffective," he said. He asked that the mayor and police chief work with his organization and others to help develop an ordinance changing the police community review process.
Mayor Jim Langfelder said there are two vacancies on the board. "We don't look to stack the deck," he said. He said those interested in applying or who want more information could email the city at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winslow said the review commission is not under the police department; it falls under the community relations department. He said there has been one case for review in the past three years, and cases where there is no internal finding of misconduct are the only ones to be considered through that process. When a case is deemed unfounded, the complainant gets the option to appeal the case to the commission.
Winslow said he would take suggestions, but, "I'm not going to negotiate this in public." He said the police union had put him on notice, citing its right to bargain over any potential changes.
Emma Shafer, a Springfield activist and college student, said she was alarmed to learn that "Springfield police officers are not required to live in the city that they are meant to serve." An ordinance passed in 2016 required newly hired municipal employees to live in city limits. "All of the city's more than 20 unions agreed to this in their new contracts, except for the (police union.)"
"If you have someone driving an hour to work every day, they aren't going to feel as connected to the community as someone who lives down the street," she said.
Shafer asked, on behalf of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, that the police chief and mayor make a statement to commit to reinstating the police residency requirement in the future police union contract.
"I've always supported residency, I've lived in the city my entire career," said Winslow. "But I want to make it crystal clear here that I have nothing bad to say about those officers who live outside the city." Winslow said he's not certain residency has an effect on performance.
Langfelder said he supports a residency requirement. "Pensions and retirements of public employees are paid by property taxes," a key argument for why those who benefit from the funds should live in Springfield, he said.
While no decisions were made about both issues discussed, the police chief and mayor agreed to another meeting with the community groups, which also included Education and Action Together (EAT), by Oct. 31.
Contact Rachel Otwell at email@example.com.