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Activists Call For Consent Decree To Advance Springfield Police Reforms

the front door of Springfield Police Headquarters

        Frustrated by what they see as a lack of progress in reforming the police department, activists in Springfield, Massachusetts want the U.S. Department of Justice to step back in. 

       The Springfield chapter of the NAACP and the Pioneer Valley Project want the Department of Justice and the city to come to a settlement that could result in a federal judge overseeing reforms of the Springfield Police Department.

    "The only way we can have any confidence they are going to implement police reforms that bring about accounability in this city is if they are under a consent decree and so we call on the Department of Justice to move in that direction," said Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield NAACP chapter.

    At a press conference Thursday afternoon on the steps of City Hall,  Swan repeated his calls for Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood to be fired, saying he has no confidence that she will make significant changes at the police department.

   "For the past 40 years, she has been a part of this department," said Swan.  "For the last decade she has been in leadership at this deparatment. She is part of the reason we have come to this impasse with corruption and brutality in the department."

    In July, the DOJ released a scathing report based on an investigation of the police department’s narcotics unit that covered a two-year period.  It found members of the unit often punched suspects in the head and neck and routinely escalated confrontations to unconstitutional levels of violence.

   Following the release of the DOJ report, City Solicitor Ed Pikula said the administration would try to reach an enforceable agreement with the Justice Department.

   Mayor Domenic Sarno said Thursday that talks are continuing.

  "I remain hopeful that we can come to some mutual agreement on how we move forward to continue to have the best police department around," Sarno told WAMC.

   The DOJ report made four reform recommendations: new training for use-of-force, improved reporting for when force is used during an arrest, changes in policies for internal investigations, and new procedures for disciplining officers.

  In public forums over the last several months, Sarno and Clapprood have said progress on reforms is being made, but they’ve spoken only in generalities.    

  For months, Clapprood argued against making changes in use-of-force training while state lawmakers were considering legislation that might impact what officers should or should not be taught.   Gov. Charlie Baker signed a police reform law earlier this month.

     Police department officials have said software is being obtained to improve record-keeping and reporting.

    The administration has also touted the implementation of police body cameras and the recent ability for people to go online to file complaints about police officers.

    In November, the NAACP and Pioneer Valley Project made a public records request for changes to the police department’s policies, protocols, and directives that have been made since the release of the the DOJ report.  The groups said what they received in response were several policy changes that appeared unrelated to the findings of the federal report.

    Michael Anderson of the Pioneer Valley Project said trust between the community and the police department is lacking.

     "We need the Department of Justice to complete the job," said Anderson.

    Sarno has held several virtual town halls on police-community relations since last summer.  The mayor hired retired Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland as a consultant on police reforms and improving police-community relations.



The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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