On February 8th Beacon Police Chief Richard Sassi filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Beacon. In that suit he claims that disciplinary proceedings pending against him are a response to his criticism of City leaders who have asked for more accountability from the Chief.
If the Chief feels he has been harmed in a manner worthy of a civil action, then he should pursue whatever legal means he feels are necessary to resolve those issues. But he should do so as a private citizen. The moment that civil action impairs the Chief's civil responsibilities, the only reasonable response is to step back and let someone else take the reins.
The lawsuits brought by Chief Sassi and his son are a costly distraction for law enforcement and city officials, but they should not divert our attention from the very real issues facing this police department.
- In 2003, when allegations were made of racial profiling, harassment, false arrests, unnecessary use of force, and general disrespect for the public by the Beacon Police Department, Chief Sassi responded by stating the allegations were, "politically motivated, made by people who have criminal charges against them and believe they can stand to gain from discrediting the department." We're not expecting the Chief to solve these problems overnight, but dismissing them in such an offhand manner only serves to strengthen the perception that he is tone deaf to citizens' concerns.
- The Department of Justice investigation, which was the result of the allegations mentioned above, revealed significant problems with the police department's policies and procedures. When the first DoJ report was published last summer, there was no formalized system of tracking complaints, no specific policy guidance on the appropriate use of force, and no way to ensure that policies were developed with feedback from the community. The Chief agreed to implement many of the DoJ recommendations, but it should not have taken a federal investigation to make this happen. We need a Chief of Police who understands that community service is one of the primary responsibilities of a police department, is proactive about addressing community concerns, and understands the importance of ongoing training for our officers.
- The Chief is now the subject of three separate disciplinary hearings. The last two charges have not been disclosed to the community, but the first charge, filed in September 2004 by City Administrator Joe Braun, accuses Sassi of insubordination and improper use of sick leave. We do not subscribe to the theory that these measures are a response to Sassi's criticism of city management.
- Finally, Chief Sassi knows that our City is not as safe as it should be. In an interview with the Beacon Dispatch he acknowledged that, "business owners complain about drug deals and other illegal activity on Main Street – it's not being protected as it was 5 years ago." But instead of taking responsibility for this problem, he points his finger at the City Council, who, he says, have cut funding for important police programs, such as the K9 unit. But the level of the police budget has not decreased over the years. Since 1991 the annual police department budget has increased 6% per year while the rest of the City budget has increased only 4% annually. Police department staff levels have also increased from 34 positions when Sassi took over as Chief in 1994, to 37 positions today.
If the citizens of Beacon are unhappy with the performance of the Mayor or members of the City Council, they can replace them at the ballot box. Not so with the Chief of Police.
Beacon needs a Chief of Police who can unite the community and dedicate 100% of his time to making sure our city is safe. Out of respect for his 30 years of service, the citizens of Beacon, and the many brave police officers who serve under his command, Chief Sassi should retire.