Holyoke councilors call for Police Department review

  • A Holyoke Police Department cruiser. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Holyoke Police Chief Manny Febo joins protesters in a march, protest and vigil against racial injustice and police brutality, June 2. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2021 7:48:29 PM

HOLYOKE — Four city councilors are calling for an independent assessment of the Holyoke Police Department after a video of a police officer alleging widespread corruption and racism within the department went viral last week.

At-large City Councilor Rebecca Lisi filed an order for an assessment, which is on the agenda for the City Council’s meeting on Tuesday night. The order proposes that “in an effort to obtain neutral, fact-based data and statistics, the City contract an independent assessment of Holyoke Police Department’s structure, policies, and practices.”

Ward 1 City Councilor Gladys Lebron-Martinez, Ward 4 City Councilor Libby Hernandez and Ward 6 City Councilor Juan Anderson-Burgos are co-sponsoring the order.

“Right now, we’re in a position where we are seeing individual officers and also the chief making direct statements to the media and they are conflicting,” Lisi said Monday. “I think at the end of the day this order is a way to cut above individual accounts and take a holistic view of the department and examine everything from the structure, the policies, and the practices.”

Last week, Rafael Roca, a 37-year-old Holyoke police officer, alleged corruption and racism in the department in a video on YouTube that now has more than 50,000 views. In a nearly 45-minute speech, he alleges that superior officers in the department falsify overtime pay, have protected each other from punishment for misconduct and have fostered a culture of favoritism and racism when it comes to promotion. Roca joined the department in 2016.

In a statement, Police Chief Manny Febo addressed several of Roca’s allegations, denying them and defending the department.

In December, Febo announced his intention to retire July 31 after three years in the department’s top position. A Holyoke native, Febo has worked in the department for 25 years. He will be replaced by Police Capt. Dave Pratt, who has been with the department since 1993, Mayor Alex Morse announced at the time.

Morse could not be reached for comment on the councilors’ order on Monday afternoon.

“We’re at a moment of transition in the department,” Lisi said. “I think we want to start the tenure of the next chief on a strong start.”

“An assessment is the best way to get to the facts,” Anderson-Burgos said in a statement. “Otherwise, we have incomplete information to work with from a series of back-and-forth statements from individuals who may be biased in one way or another.”

In announcing the order, Hernandez said that “the results of an independent assessment will allow us to ensure that fairness and equality prevail in all Police Department practices and decisions.”

Lisi said that she and the co-sponsors are “not trying to choose sides ... it’s looking to rise above and get real information that will set us up for success moving forward.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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