By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic Sarno announced his choice for police commissioner, current Deputy Chief John Barbieri, a press conference two days before the City Council was to address once more the creation of a police commission.
In addressing a question if his decision was designed to circumvent the council’s actions – which he opposed – Sarno said, “No. I had a timeline and this was the process.”
Unlike the selection of the last two police commissioners and the school superintendent there was no public part of the process. Sarno made his selection after “grilling intensively” behind closed doors the three deputy chiefs Barbieri, Robert McFarlin and William Cochrane along with his Chief of Staff Denise Jordan, Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources William Mahoney and Chief Finance and Administrative Officer T.J. Plante.
Sarno said, “The appointment comes under the strong mayor form of government.” He added, “I feel very comfortable about the process. The buck stops with me.”
Sarno praised the other two deputy chiefs and commended Barbieri for both his “command presence” but also his empathy that has allowed him to resolve situations in a non-violent way.
He said that Barbieri showed the selection committee a presentation of his five-step plan to improve public safety and will be sharing that plan with the public shortly.
The City Council meeting scheduled Friday has been cancelled.
Sarno said that he did meet with individuals and groups who had concerns about the selection process and listened to them.
He also defended the Civilian Review Board, which advises on police discipline and said, “Every edict this board has put out Commissioner [William Fitchet] has followed to a T.”
Fitchet also lauded Barbieri and promised a “smooth and effective transition.” Fitchet said he would be leaving the department on May 31 and in April will be noting his 42nd year as a Springfield police officer.
Fitchet said the candidates for the job are “exemplary” and “there are no easy days at the Springfield Police Department.”
Barbieri said he was honored to have been selected as the new commissioner.
He said, “Springfield is facing a myriad of urban challenges and policing is part of one of those challenges. I plan to continue building relationships with residents, businesses, citizens, non-profit agencies and the clergy, our state and federal counterparts to reduce crime, fear of crime and the conditions that cause crime throughout the city. Through unity of effort my goal is to spur aggressive incremental change that improves collaborative effort, citizens satisfaction, and departmental morale through efforts to provide proactive police patrols, real time responses to recognizable crime trends and by tasking measures to make the department more effective, efficient and accountable.”
According to the press materials distributed by the city, “Barbieri joined the Springfield Police Department in 1988 after graduating first in his academy class. He was appointed deputy chief in May of 2009. His duties and assignments in this capacity included: administrative supervision of Sectors A,B,C, D and G; the entire Uniformed Division; the Records Bureau, the academy and the Street Crimes Unit, as well as oversight of Shannon Grant anti-gang police deployments and the expenditure of granted funds.
“Commissioner Barbieri holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Western New England University. He is a graduate of the Springfield Technical High School, Springfield Technical Community College and Anna Maria College. In addition to his formal schooling he has had specialized training in: weapons of mass destruction; firearms instructor; as well as F.B.I. courses in: crimes scene investigation; fingerprint identification, tactical response and entry team training; firearms and narcotics interdiction.
“Police Commissioner John Barbieri is a resident of Springfield.”
City Councilor Tim Allen said he wanted Sarno to hold off of his appointment until the council had voted on the police commission and said he would have preferred “a true open search.”
He added he believes the council should have been involved in the selection process as well as “strong and systemic” input from city residents.