Controversial SPD Study Published

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The final report of a comprehensive study of the Suffield Police Department’s operation, initiated early this year, was distributed to the Selectmen and the Police Commission in October and published on the Town website at the end of that month. First Selectman Melissa Mack and Police Commission Chairman Kenneth Pascoe then called a joint special meeting of the Selectmen and the Commissioners on November 4 in the Middle School auditorium.About a hundred attendees were there.

First Selectman Mack asked Attorney Eric Daigle of the Daigle Law Group, who did the study, to give a short summary of the project and its 59-page report. 

As described by Attorney Daigle and the report itself, the study entailed interviews, surveys, and the review of relevant documents. His emphasis throughout was to assure the safety of the police officers and to reduce the probability of expensive liability.

The Daigle report produced 10 specific findings and 42 recommendations. The findings were, in simplified language: Department morale is significantly low. The Chief’s responsibilities and reporting requirements need clarification. The organization of the department needs revision. Patrol staffing levels and scheduling are inadequate. Criminal investigation completions are neither timely nor effective. Policies are ineffective, and there is no efficient process for review and addition. Training needs are not assessed. SPD should ensure that the internal affairs process is timely, consistent, and effective. Data and records management is ineffective. Parts of the Collective Bargaining Agreement are ineffective, out of date, and detrimental to the department’s operation.

A specific matter mentioned in the Daigle report was included separately in Mack’s published information package. It related to a Police Union complaint concerning the removal of the Suffield police detective position. In the published Memorandum of Understanding, it was agreed that the position would be reestablished, but under certain circumstances the detective could be assigned to patrol duty, retaining the detective’s pay and benefits.

Daigle said that the 42 recommendations should be discussed, prioritized, and acted upon after careful review. 

The selectmen and the commissioners had evidently done their homework, for there were detailed questions and assertions. Among them, shared by comments from the public later in the meeting, were dismayed complaints about the way the study had been handled, apparently with little participation by the selectmen other than Mack, or by any of the commissioners except Chairman Pascoe.

There seemed to have been a mistaken impression that the study had included a recommendation to abolish the Police Commission entirely. This was discussed at some length. As explained by Town Attorney Derek Donnelly, there are conflicts regarding the commission among the Town Charter, the book of Suffield ordinances, and the State Statutes. He was working to get that situation straightened out, with no current prejudice regarding the Police Commission.

It was clear that the department, recently including as few as ten officers, had been unable to reach the staffing level currently authorized. And there was considerable discussion of the need and practicality of consistently staffing three patrol cars at a time, ideally with management supervision at all times. Public comment, including at least one police officer (not in uniform), varied widely but was generally supportive of the Police Commission and consistent in grateful and complimentary comments about Suffield police officers.

Former police commissioner Gordon Stagg echoed a comment made earlier in the meeting by Selectman Mel Chafetz: Stagg felt that the situation reemphasized a previous proposal; he urged, “We need a town manager!”

The two-hour meeting adjourned with no substantive votes taken. 

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