Springfield City Manager responds to NAACP demands for change within police department

Changes proposed after months of talks between city, police and NAACP.
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 10:25 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield City leaders say they are committed to spurring positive change when it comes to issues involving race.

The city, police department and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have been in talks for months.

At issue are some concerns brought forth by the NAACP over the treatment of black people by some officers.

Toni Robinson, NAACP Chapter President asked, "We’re having a health crisis but what about the racism?

“We should always ask ourselves if we can do better,” said Springfield City Manager Jason Gage.

The conversation between city leaders and the community started after a video of Gregory Robinson being arrested in central Springfield hit social media. Many people accused officers of using excessive force.

The department released dash camera video in response to the public backlash. It showed a different perspective that included what appeared to be Robinson attempting to flee police and possessing a gun.

However, Robinson says the actions taken by officers to arrest Robinson were unacceptable no matter who was being detained and what the color of their skin is.

“I think it woke people up,” said Robinson. “It’s a whole different dynamic. (It’s one thing) to go to the table and go before the chief and say this is happening and we don’t want it to happen here, when it’s several states away. It’s an entirely different thing when you have video cameras and footage of what we’re trying to bring to light actually happening in front of us.”

The conversations escalated after the death of George Floyd. He is the man who died in Minnesota while in police custody.

“I do believe that it cultivated and brought this to the attention of our leaders to move more urgently,” said Robinson.

“Anytime there is what is perceived or is actually a negative interaction, somebody can get hurt, whether it happens here, whether it happens somewhere else, we have to be paying attention to it,” said Gage. "You really debrief. You really break it down and figure out, is that the best approach? Is there another approach? You start thinking about your techniques, your training and so forth and ask yourself, can we do better?

Gage says he recommends that changes be made to the Police Civilian Review Board, which investigates complaints against officers. Applicants are no longer required to complete the Citizens Police Review Academy to serve. However, post-selection core training will be established.

Gage also recommends that officers stop using lateral vascular neck restraints also known as the LVNR technique. The department states that it does not use that technique often, only about 6 to 36 times a year according to information provided in a news release. Additionally, the release states that Springfield Police Officers do not want to use any physical technique that is considered disrespectful, inhuman or could result in unintentional harm.

Gage said, “There’s some systemic impacts. What I mean by that is, when you can plug various people in various roles and it doesn’t change, that starts to tell’s easy to look at a person and say well that’s the person and their judgement and behaviors. That’s the easy thing for people to do. But the easy thing isn’t always the right thing.”

He also recommends that a reduction in the rate at which minorities are pulled over by police.

“The first thing that you need to do when you solve a problem is understand what it is,” said Gage. "We need to take a look at the data from the stops differently and we need to collect more data and we need to ask ourselves, why is this number where it is?

The city is partnering with Dr. Mike Stout, PhD with Oklahoma State University to review the disparity report to better understand it and find ways to reduce the index. According to a recent report more black drivers are pulled over by police than white drivers in Springfield.

The disparity index in the city is about one point higher than it is for the state.

“It’s really about how as people we see each other, how we see through the eyes of others, ask ourselves, if that happened to me how would I feel? Really think about that in all of our interactions,” said Gage.

Robinson said, “I think that the credit goes to all sides of the table. No one said to stop the conversation. We’re adamant about keeping the conversation going to make sure that these changes do happen.”

More community engagement talks are scheduled for later this month and will continue into November.

Information on how to get involved can be found here.

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