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Springfield Police Reforms Get Support From City Council, Skepticism From Police

Springfield Municipal Center West
Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois

A package of police reform proposals is on a path to final passage after Springfield City Council members made changes to the ordinance Tuesday night. The sponsors said the changes removed opposition, and aldermen placed the ordinance on their agreed-upon agenda for next week’s meeting.

City council members and some residents praised efforts to compromise.

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said he supported much of the ordinance because it outlines practices that are already in place at the department. But he and Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley said they’ve heard concerns from police officers who feel the reforms show a lack of support and appreciation for their work.

“(Officers) want to know if the council has got their back because at some point, we're going to use force and it's going to be ugly,” Winslow said. “And then are you going to support them? Are you going to stand up? Or are you going to throw them under the bus?”

Winslow also said the police union has formally asked to bargain over the proposed changes to the Police Community Review Commission.

The citizen oversight board currently can review only the Internal Affairs investigations into police misconduct complaints that did not result in discipline. The proposal would expand that to any citizen complaint of officer misconduct or use of excessive force. The original proposal put forward by Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner required such cases to be forwarded to the commission, but the amended version states that they can be forwarded. It also would create a database of misconduct and discipline cases.

Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer offered an amendment that outlined community outreach and education efforts the chief of police should take on.

It directs the chief to meet with the NAACP Springfield, Faith Coalition for the Common Good, Black Lives Matter Springfield and others to work on community policing. It also says the police department and community groups should educate the public on developing mutual respect and “avoiding unlawful threats against the police, bodily harm to the police, and resisting arrest.”

Winslow continued to stress that many of the recommendations are already standard practice, and in his Pledge to Professionalism and general orders for officers.

The ordinance issues guidance to the police department to ban chokeholds and neck restraints, require training on crisis intervention and de-escalation, and only use lethal force “when reasonably necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury as provided by law,” among other recommendations. It also recommends police only use tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse groups during an emergency order issued by the mayor or when necessary to protect people and property. It discourages the use of "no-knock" warrants.

The amended version took out restricting the use of pepper spray.

Still, one resident made a public comment saying the reform proposal might be “tying the police’s hands” in what they could do. Redpath, frustrated by the comment and by similar arguments he said he’s heard from others, countered that he would not support an ordinance that stymied police.

“This is about dialogue. This is about conversation. This is about respect for each other, for the people that are out on the streets in the police department. And we all support them,” Redpath said. “So for people to come up here and make accusations that we're trying to handcuff the police – that's absolutely not true.”

Other residents and city council members praised efforts to negotiate the package of police reforms.

Sunshine Clemons, president of the Springfield chapter of Black Lives Matter, said she was confused about why officers would feel the city isn’t supporting them if the ordinance puts on paper what they already do. She said she appreciates that all ten council members support the ordinance.

“We have not had a major incident here, like Kenosha or Aurora or Louisville. We want to keep it that way,” she said. “We want to build the trust between our community and the law enforcement officers. And I believe that this ordinance is a good way to do that.”

Turner said she plans to bring another proposal forward focused on overhauling the Police Community Review Commission, but she’s proud of the work done on this ordinance.

“I think that we have had a good police-community relationship in the city of Springfield,” she said. “Has it been perfect? No. Are there issues? Yes. But we're working on them and we have a dialogue and an avenue in order to work on them.”

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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