SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The state’s Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in favor of the Springfield City Council and against Mayor Domenic Sarno in a lawsuit over how the police department is managed.

The council has been trying to restructure the department’s leadership with a five-person civilian commission to run the department, rather than a single police commissioner appointed by the mayor. Under their plan, the commission would have the power to hire, fire, and discipline police officers. A police chief would run the department’s day-to-day operations.

“That was pretty straightforward from our end. The fact that Mayor and the administration in that enough to challenge it up to the Supreme Court, to me is problematic,” said Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno had vetoed the city council’s vote to have a civilian police commission in both 2016 and 2018. Sarno had argued that the city’s charter gave only the mayor the power to determine how the department is managed.

However, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday morning that the City Council does have the authority to reorganize the police department. This affirms a ruling almost a year ago by a Hampden Superior Court judge.

Springfield has not had a civilian police commission since 2005.

City Council of Springfield vs. Mayor of Springfield

At-Large Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, Vice President of the City Council, issued a statement in response to the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling once again makes clear that the Springfield City Council has been acting within our authority in the effort to restore a Board of Police Commissioners in the City of Springfield. Today’s ruling is the end of the line for the false claim that the City Council does not have jurisdiction over the organization of our city government.

This is an important ruling not only regarding future governance of the Springfield Police Department, but also with regard to the separation of powers and the necessary checks and balances within local government.

The establishment of a Board of Police Commissioners is not about any one person or event – it is about creating a fair and transparent system of accountability, professionalism, and checks and balances that the public and members of the department can trust and rely on.

Now is the time to govern. I am hopeful that today’s ruling will resolve this impasse that has been an impediment to progress for too long, and that we can turn the collective efforts of our municipal government and community towards a responsible implementation and the future.“

At-Large Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman, Vice President of the City Council

Lederman was the lead sponsor of the order to retain legal counsel and file legal proceedings to enforce the ordinance in 2020 and thanks Attorneys Thomas Lesser and Michael Aleo who represented the City Council, and says that the lawyers retained by the City Council volunteered their services at no cost to the tax-payers.

Statement from Commissioner Clapprood 

Since I’ve become Commissioner I believe we have made great strides in modernizing the Springfield Police Department in difficult times.  Since I implemented the Body Worn Camera program the level of transparency has never been higher while the number of force complaints has never been lower.  Working with the Community Police Hearing Board I have been a strong disciplinarian by holding officers accountable for their actions. 

At the same time, I am under contract as the Commissioner of the police department through May 2024. The Mayor asked me to take on this important task and I continue to give my all to rebuild the image of our department through instilling values in our young officers so that they take pride in this profession.  

I’ll await word from the Mayor and the law department as to what any next steps may be.  Until then I will continue to do this job to the best of my ability to support the women and men of the Springfield Police Department, our community and the Mayor.

Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood

Statement from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno

“The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today determined that the City Council has the right to require me to appoint a Board of Police Commissioners.  I accept that responsibility.

At the same time, the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision did nothing at all to diminish in any way my authority as Mayor to appoint and determine the responsibilities of that individual who is charged with the management and operation of the Springfield Police Department.  I will continue to exercise that responsibility.

We will work within the guidance of the decision and under the prevailing statutes and laws of the Commonwealth, and prevailing ordinances of the City of Springfield, to comply with the decision and to maintain the high standards of public safety.

Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood will lead the Springfield Police Department, as she continues to move the department forward.

The Board of Police Commissioners is to perform, as the SJC noted an ‘oversight function’ but not a ‘daily managerial function’.  The day-to-day duties concerning the operation of the police department, including ‘command and control’ of all department members, professional standards, as well as hiring, promotions, and as well as assignments, will continue to be performed by a full-time police professional, Cheryl Clapprood.

However, I will have the Board of Police Commissioners, with the subpoena power authority I have long sought, to conduct hearings on disciplinary matters for the benefit of the Department.  The Board will determine the conditions of discipline, termination, dismissal and reappointment.  I will be naming the five (5) member board shortly.” 

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno