Settlement with Springfield Police in excessive force case includes reforms

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The settlement stems from an investigation of the use of excessive force by the Springfield Police Department’s narcotics bureau.

08/14/2018 Springfield Ma – Exterior of Springfield Police Headquarters. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Some major reforms will soon be implemented at the Springfield Police Department.

These include de-escalation training, reporting any time an officer has to use force, and the installment of an independent monitor that will ensure the department complies with the reforms.

The reforms come as a result of the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the police department’s narcotics bureau and findings that its officers “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that deprived individuals of their rights under the Fourth Amendment.”

The Department of Justice said in a news release that it reached a settlement agreement with the city Wednesday, in the form of a proposed consent decree that would resolve the U.S.’s claim against the narcotics bureau.

The investigation into the narcotics bureau, which is now known as the firearms investigation unit, began in April 2018, the Department of Justice said.

In July 2020, the Department of Justice announced their findings that officers in the bureau often failed to report use of force incidents. At times, it said, officers’ reports were inconsistent with collected evidence, including video and photographs. 

Under the agreement, the Department of Justice said, the Springfield Police Department would improve policies and training related to officers’ use of force.

The policies and training are meant to ensure that officers avoid force whenever possible. They will be trained on de-escalation tactics, will know when force can and cannot be used, and will report all instances where force is used, the Department of Justice said.

Additionally, the Springfield Police Department will improve supervision of officers and internal investigations of officer misconduct.

The goal is to ensure the police department holds officers accountable when they abridge use-of-force policies, the Department of Justice said.

The decree will need to be approved by a federal district court judge, which will also appoint an independent monitor based on the recommendation of the police and justice departments.

The independent monitor will assess the city’s implementation of the decree’s requirements and file public reports with the court on the city’s progress.

Springfield Police Department Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood issued a statement on the agreement:

“I recognize the responsibility we have to address past issues within our department, and I thank everyone for their work to institute meaningful change that will create a better, more modern Springfield Police Department.

In addition to the agreement, Clapprood said the police department has acquired early intervention software that collects and assesses data to identify if there’s a trend of misconduct. She said she’s also implemented her own reforms over the last few years, and that all officers now wear body cameras.

“We have already seen encouraging outcomes as a result of these reforms. In 2021, body-worn camera footage helped to resolve all seven use-of-force complaints against officers, including one against the now-former narcotics unit, with zero of the complaints being sustained,” she said.

“We remain committed to making Springfield a safer place each day, and doing so in a way that prioritizes respect, nobility and service, and builds trust within the community. We look forward to sharing additional information in the future as we continue our work.”

U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins put out a statement on the agreement in the news release.

“When communities don’t trust or fear law enforcement, it undermines public safety. Some within the Springfield Police Department, through their sustained and documented constitutional violations, have tarnished the name of the many upstanding and decent police officers working in Springfield,” she said.

“Today is the first step in repairing the harm and mistrust their misconduct and violence caused. After lengthy negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that includes significant and sustainable reforms to ensure effective and constitutional policing going forward in the City of Springfield.”

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