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Posted on: October 19, 2020

City Manager proposes changes in response to NAACP demands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

City Manager Jason Gage presented recommendations to City Council Tuesday night, following demands issued by the local NAACP. The three demands included: banning vascular neck restraints/choke holds or any form of neck restraints; reducing traffic stop disparity index and certain reforms to the Police Civilian Review Board.

Gage met with Toni Robinson, NAACP Chapter President; Adrienne Denson Ewell, Chapter Vice President; and Cheryl Clay, former Chapter President to discuss in detail the concerns and had ongoing e-mail communication regarding each of the issues. There were similar meetings and e-mail communication with Police Chief Paul Williams.

Gage said he was pleased with the dialogue among all parties and that the City is always open to discussing items of concern that any stakeholder groups may have. He also expressed support for the more than 300 police officers who serve and protect our community. 

“There is always room for improvement and our door is always open,” Gage explained. 

The following recommendations to Council were made: banning the use of lateral vascular neck restraints (LVNR), reducing traffic stop disparity rate and certain changes to the Police Civilian Review Board. 

SPD does not allow choke holds, which is the use of force technique that affects the airway and breathing and has recently drawn a great deal of attention nationwide. SPD does, however, use the LVNR technique. While LVNR is a very common use of force technique used by policing agencies across the country, the primary concerns typically relate to using the technique improperly. SPD does not wish to use any physical technique that is in any way considered disrespectful, inhumane or could result in unintentional harm and does not use the technique often (between 6 and 36 times/year) and can utilize other techniques. 

Gage recommended that the City and SPD work closely with the NAACP and others to understand why our traffic disparity rate has been under three for African Americans for years and to make changes that result in a significant and expeditious reduction. Springfield has a disparity index of 2.71 and the state is 1.78. 

“We hire officers who care about protecting this community. Yet, we have found the disparity ratio has been high for many years, regardless of personnel shifting to different beats. As a result, a significant focus of our review is focusing closely on possible systemic impacts.  This means that regardless of officer assignment, certain strategies and protocols to policing may be inadvertently having a disproportionate impact,” Gage said. 

The City has contracted with Dr. Mike Stout, PhD with Oklahoma State University to study the reported disparity rate in order understand it and reduce it.   Yet, the disparity rate is “still very high” Gage said.  

“We do realize that this analysis, and ongoing efforts to reduce the disparity index need to be collaborative so we are currently considering the collection of additional information from traffic stops to help us look deeper at possible causes.  We are also reviewing some changes to traffic stop protocols.”

The primary concerns with the Police Civilian Review Board relate to the selection requirements and process. Gage recommends that all applications be forwarded directly to the City Council for consideration. In addition, applicants will no longer be required to complete the Citizens Police Review Academy prior to being selected for the Board.  The City will establish another post-selection core training option. Selected members will be given priority placement to attend the Academy if they should wish to participate.

A prior felony conviction will still disqualify an applicant from membership. In addition, the applicant cannot be a party to current litigation against the City or a defendant in a criminal prosecution during the time of selection.  Information regarding these criteria will be provided to the City Council.

Staff further recommended extending the membership term from two to three years to better provide Board continuity and expanding the number of board seats from five members to seven to provide a better opportunity for inclusion and diversity of the Board.

The City of Springfield is committed to furthering the issue of racial equity in the community and is involved in several activities scheduled this month and November. Activities include, but are not limited to: co-hosting “Tough Talks” a grassroots movement that aims to ignite difficult conversations to spur positive change. The next dialogue takes place Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. and continues Oct. 29. In addition, City Council will host listening sessions on Oct. 26, Nov. 9 and Nov. 23 on the topics of   crime and the community, race relations and the community and race relations and policing.

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For more information, contact Cora Scott at 417-380-3352 or cscott@springfielmo.gov. 

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