EMMA ROUTLEY/2020 FILE PHOTO

City leaders said they have taken action steps to address public concerns regarding Springfield police behavior and accountability.

SPRINGFIELD – Residents this week criticized the Springfield City Council for “inaction” in enforcing police accountability, and the council contended that changes don’t come fast or easy, but progress is still being made. 

Resident Thomas Lawrence said council last week – at its budget meeting – squandered a chance to take “the smallest possible step forward” by not reallocating money that could hold police officers more accountable. 

He said that while the majority of council “consistently talk about how (they) agree that there is an issue … here we are again talking about inaction during these times … Not taking a stand and not making changes is taking a side. Council’s decision to stay silent means it is content with the SPD and its current method of how they do their job.”

A handful of residents shared their opinions on the subject, including Amy Confran, who said they are disappointed that the council “keeps going to bat” for SPD, despite hearing complaints from the community. “What is your breaking point? …. All I’m seeing is just time and time again, people bring in really valid criticism. The (police) department is hurting other parts of the city, and (council) is just doing nothing.”

Councilor Damien Pitts suggested that people step back and re-evaluate the situation. It’s not just a matter of moving money around to fix problems with SPD, he said, it’s about a larger cultural shift that is required to make lasting change. 

“Breathe, and then think about who you are allowing to have a voice at this table,” Pitts said to the audience. “I’m speaking from my experience as a Black man here in Oregon, and oftentimes the loudest voice for minority issues are white people ... you all don’t even provide a space for those of us to really speak. I think that is often the case when it comes to this police,” Pitts said.

“I’m all for change, but I am also all for culture change,” he constinued. “And that’s not just going to be with the police. It’s a long-term strategic plan that cannot be solved (only) by defunding, reallocating – whatever you want to call it.” 

He said that the council could choose to move money around but “crime is not going to decrease. Yes, the police need to be held accountable. Moving money around like that isn’t going to do it, because guess what, you gotta hire more people … Someone in my apartment complex got their car stolen on Friday night. Are citizens going to handle it? No, we are not. It’s going to be the cops … People talk about white supremacy; guess who’s going to handle those people? It’s going to be the cops – well, hopefully.”

City manager Nancy Newton said that both public and private internal changes are being worked on in the department. 

“We have made changes to the Springfield Police Department and I want to tell people that there are more changes to come,” Newton said. “There are a lot of things that we need to do, and we’re working on them in a thoughtful, methodical and deliberate way.”

Newton said that changes so far include:

γ Policies are now listed on the SPD webpage, including the recently updated use-of-force policy.

γ SPD is in the process of hiring a new public information officer, in an effort to better communicate with the public. 

γ SPD set up an internal committee after the city’s use-of-force investigation was completed. “Some (recommendations) have already been addressed. Others are, for lack of a better word, on the to-do list,” Newton said. 

γ De-escalation tactics and risk management has been prioritized, which speaks to SPD’s “complaints history; we want to do everything we can to improve that,” she said. 

Newton said the discussion with SPD around the use-of-force was “a very open and productive discussion with the council. I see that as a very positive indicator of the recognition in our law enforcement community that we do need to communicate more with each other, especially with the policymakers in the community such as the council.”

She said she anticipates that SPD and the City will require more resources as council discusses changing the “culture and atmosphere” in Springfield. “It takes training. It takes dedication. It takes people on staff that are committed to that,” including issues around diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We need some change in the community as a whole,” Pitts said. “All of us are responsible for some of the things that we allow to go on in our community. We need to give a hard, strong look internally and externally, and create a long-term plan to make this a better place … The bottom line is that culture shift is not based on money, it is based on changing the system as a whole.”