Springfield Commissioners take first step to revamp police advisory team

Springfield City Commissioners conducted the first reading of an amendment to city ordinances on Tuesday that would revive a police advisory group that has been inactive for years.

During a virtual commission meeting on Tuesday, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said talks of creating the group that would be titled the “Community Police Advisory Team” was in part a response to issues raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“Creating the advisory team is something the city needs to do. It is partially a response to what is going on in the country and something we simply should have done anyway,” he said.

If passed, the group would consist of nine members of the community and would be tasked with reviewing policy as well as specific interactions between members of the Springfield Police Division and the public.

Copeland said the group would report to the city manager who would in turn report findings and recommendations to the city commission.

Recommendations made by the group could pertain to policy changes or suggestions related to the type of equipment used by police officers.

Protest against police brutality and racial injustices in the country erupted after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis Police custody in late May after an officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Demonstrations and marches against racial injustice were also held in Springfield, New Carlisle and in communities in Champaign County following national trends.

Floyd’s death and the demonstrations also sparked conversations of establishing advisory committees in Clark County that aimed to address and combat systemic racism while working with local law enforcement agencies.

Members of the local clergy as well as other residents engaged in talks with local law enforcement officials in June about creating some type of policing oversight committee.

Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf said at that time that it could also serve in efforts to reach more people in the community when it comes to his department as well as help better forge and maintain relationships.

He said it also presents another opportunity to share with the public challenges faced by local law enforcement.

Those conversations have since led to a plan to create separate advisory teams, with one working with the city of Springfield and its police division, while the other would work with Clark County commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office.

The Board of Clark County Commissioners passed a resolution at the end of July to create the Clark County Law Enforcement Advisory Team.

For the city of Springfield, Copeland noted on Tuesday that a similar advisory group had been formed in the city over a decade ago, but had become inactive over the years.

Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck said on Tuesday that the police advisory team would consist of city residents who would be able to thoroughly review and recommend policies and procedures.

Those selected to take part in the advisory team would also be required to complete the city’s Citizen Police Academy. They would also be educated on the division’s current operations as its policy and procedures manual is about 800 pages long.

“To be proactive and to do this is a good idea. I agree with it 100 percent. However, it should not be construed that this should cast any doubt on the way that we handle things currently. Because I think they have done a wonderful job,” said Commissioner Kevin O’Neill in regards to the police division.

“You need the protesting and it brings awareness, but this is the second piece and you need both,” said Springfield Assistant Mayor Joyce Chilton, in regards to the advisory team and residents participating in the citizen police academy.

The next city commission meeting will be on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

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