Springfield Police Commission Lawsuit Moves Through Appellate Process

Sep 7, 2021

Massachusetts' highest court is scheduled in December to hear arguments over whether to reestablish a police commission in Springfield.

The Springfield Police Department is currently led by a single commissioner. But the City Council for several years has sought instead to install a board to oversee the department.

That's something Mayor Domenic Sarno has strongly opposed.

But the Council sued the mayor — and earlier this year, a judge ruled Sarno had to abide by a 2018 ordinance passed by the council, establishing a police commission.

Sarno has appealed the decision.

The lawsuit by the City Council was sparked after Sarno took no action on the police commission ordinance after it was passed, and the mayor’s veto was overridden. The Council also passed a similar measure in 2016, and again Sarno ignored it.

In legal briefs filed with the Supreme Judicial Court, attorneys for Sarno argue the city charter gives the mayor the sole power to appoint the head of the police department — and that the ordinance interferes with this.

"The City Council cannot unilaterally terminate the Police Commissioner and cannot require the Mayor to appoint five persons in her place," attorneys for Sarno wrote. "The Mayor’s right to appoint and remove the head of the Springfield Police Department includes the right to determine who will be that 'head.'"

Lawyers for the City Council have yet to file their reply. But the City Council has contended in the past that it has the right to reorganize city departments.