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Civil rights leader and Springfield police critic says department dropping him as chaplain

The Springfield Police Department headquarters.
The Springfield Police Department headquarters.Matthew Cavanaugh/for the Boston Globe/file

Bishop Talbert W. Swan II, the president of the Greater Springfield NAACP, said Friday that the Springfield Police Department is ending his tenure as a chaplain after 10 years, a move he says is retaliation for his outspoken criticism of the force and his calls for the police commissioner to be removed.

The end of Swan’s chaplaincy is the latest dispute between him and the department, which is under pressure to reform after a Department of Justice investigation released in July found narcotics officers used excessive force, needlessly escalated encounters with civilians, and routinely provide misleading or false arrest reports to cover up misconduct.


“It’s the M.O. of this police commissioner and of this mayor to be vindictive against those who challenge them,” said Swan. “The unfortunate thing is that while they should be focused on cleaning up the department and perhaps getting rid of rogue police officers, they are worried about getting rid of chaplains who challenge police brutality.”

Ryan Walsh, a Police Department spokesman, denied that the department is retaliating against Swan, noting that he is among three chaplains who aren’t continuing in that role. The captain who works with chaplains, he said, recently reviewed records for all 10 chaplains and found that Swan hadn’t attended a meeting or participated in department activities in three years. The captain conducted the audit after a new clergy member approached the department about becoming a chaplain, Walsh said. Swan could re-apply in the future.

Chaplains are volunteers who attend a meeting once every three months and take turns being on call for the department in case their services are needed, Walsh said. Some chaplains attend roll calls at the beginning of each shift and go to trainings at the department’s academy, he said.

“It’s just difficult to understand how he’s so interested in this position when he has never participated in it,” said Walsh. “We have a lot of chaplains who do show up proactively during these stressful times of need.”


Swan said because of scheduling conflicts with NAACP meetings, he made arrangements with another police chaplain, the Rev. Gail Hill, to get briefed on department business. He said he was told the scheduling conflicts wouldn’t prevent him from serving as a chaplain. Swan said he was always available when he was on-call, but he recalled only two times when the department summoned him for help.

In one case, Swan said he was asked to comfort the family of a gunshot victim and, another time, police asked him to comfort the loved ones of a man who was found dead.

Swan is senior pastor at Church of God In Christ in Springfield and has a popular Twitter account with more than 163,000 followers.

“When you can’t honestly say, ‘We got rid of Bishop Swan because of the fact that he criticized the Police Department,’ you got to make up something,” said Swan, noting his family has a long history of serving the Springfield police. He said his 92-year-old uncle is also a former Springfield police chaplain and NAACP chapter president.

The Greater Springfield NAACP will continue to press Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood to implement reform and lobby the Justice Department to pursue a legal agreement with the city to ensure its recommendations become policy, Swan said.


A spokesman for Sarno and union leaders representing Springfield patrol officers and supervisors didn’t respond Friday to inquiries from the Globe.

Springfield’s City Council president, Justin Hurst, said he was dumbfounded by the Police Department’s decision.

“This is the president of the NAACP,” said Hurst. “It doesn’t help to bridge the divide between the Police Department and the community.”

Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.