Monday, March 17, 2014 • 2:07 PM Comments ()

As Sarno Nears SPD Hire, McFarlin Comes Under Fire

posted by Maureen Turner

When will Mayor Domenic Sarno announce his pick to replace soon-to-retire Police Commissioner William Fitchet?

The mayor’s not saying. But a decision seems to be soon on its way; as Pete Goonan reports on MassLive, Sarno has now finished interviewing the three deputy chiefs from whom he plans to pick Fitchet’s successor.

How controversial is the mayor’s hiring plan? Let us count the ways: First, a group of city councilors who want to replace the current single-commissioner model of running the SPD with a five-member Police Commission has called, to no avail, for Sarno to slow down the process until the Council has a chance to vote on the Police Commission proposal.

Critics have also challenged Sarno’s decision to limit the pool of candidates to the three deputy chiefs, rather than conduct a wider search. The mayor’s also come under fire for conducting the entire hiring process behind closed doors, with private interviews and little public information about how, exactly, he plans to choose the next SPD head.

Finally, questions are being raised about one of the three candidates: Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin, whom some insiders suspect has the inside track on the job.

Last week, Matt Szafranski of Western Mass. Politics & Insight published this less-than-flattering story about McFarlin’s tenure in the SPD, including his battles with Arise for Social Justice; his support of Officer Jeffrey Asher, who had been involved in several cases of alleged brutality before eventually being fired and convicted of assaulting a suspect; and long-simmering allegations that he played a role in encouraging the vandalism of then-City Councilor Mo Jones’ car after Jones voted against Quinn Bill benefits for cops. Szafranski, who wrote that he made several unsuccessful attempts to interview McFarlin, also addresses the deputy chief’s role in department politics.

The issues raised in Szafranski’s article were amplified in a statement released today by Michaelann Bewsee of Arise, Springfield NAACP President Talbert Swan II and the Council of Churches President Timothy Paul. The release criticizes Sarno for running a narrow and private search to replace Fitchet. It also expresses “major concerns with the prospect of Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin becoming police commissioner.”

McFarlin, the three write, has “a long history of insensitivity toward communities of color and women.” Among McFarlin’s “greatest hits,” they refer to the Mo Jones case; McFarlin’s support of Asher; and his alleged use of coded racist language and “inappropriate and unprofessional” nicknames within the SPD.

The letter concludes: “In the interest of transparency, we call on the mayor to open his selection process and to allow public input. In the best interest of the city and police community relations, we urge the mayor to look further into the allegations regarding Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin and to thoroughly vet all candidates under consideration.”

In response, McFarlin told Goonan, “I could not successfully hold the second-highest rank in the department if my reputation within the city and the relationship with the good people here was not exemplary.” McFarlin said he has “great concern and regard for the city of Springfield and care[s] very much about it,” adding, “Otherwise, I would not subject myself and my family to attacks made by people who don’t know me.”

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