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Progress Reported On Springfield Police Reform One Year After DOJ Report

the front door of Springfield Police Headquarters
WAMC
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    A year after a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice about the Springfield, Massachusetts police department, talks continue toward a settlement agreement on reforms. 

   For the past year, city officials have been holding regular discussions with the Justice Department and have exchanged written proposals. Now, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the negotiations are in the home stretch.

   "There are things we are working on that I am not at liberty to discuss, " Clapprood said. "I think we are looking at a settlement in September and I don't want to jeopardize that."

   About a year ago, on July 8, 2020, the Justice Department released the findings of a two year investigation into the police department’s Narcotics Unit.  It concluded officers in that unit routinely used excessive force that violated people’s constitutional rights and then wrote false or misleading reports about what had occurred.

   The Justice Department recommended four major changes: new use-of-force training, improved reporting procedures, revised internal investigation policies and increased accountability mechanisms.

  While refusing to discuss specifics about the negotiations with the Justice Department, Clapprood told a hearing of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on the anniversary of the DOJ report that progress is being made toward the reforms recommended.

         The Commissioner said a new use-of-force policy is now in place. The directive bans the use of choke holds except in extreme circumstances.

  "The Springfield Police Department does not train its officers in the use of choke holds," Clapprood said.  The policy states "choke holds are prohibited unless lethal force is justified and no other reasonable force alternative exists."

   The new policy, which Clapprood said the department has been training with since January, also says officers should first try to de-escalate situations before using force.

    Clapprood said a new Internal Investigations Unit policy is being developed.  The department is also looking to purchase software to improve use-of-force reporting and track data that would help identify officers whose conduct may be troubling.

  City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and had called last year for a ban on choke holds and an emphasis on de-escalation, said he was pleased with the progress reported by Clapprood.

"We all have the same common goal which is to have the best Springfield Police Department we can have for the residents of the city of Springfield," Ramos said.

  The Narcotics Unit of the Springfield Police Department is being phased out.  In its place will be the new Firearms Investigation Unit. Clapprood announced the changes as Springfield – and other cities across America – face a surge in shootings.

  "We are going to look at seizing a lot of the illegal guns, we're going to look at all the shootings that have occurred and give an assist to the Detective Bureau in solving some of these shootings," Clapprood said at a press conference called to announce the new unit.

  Officials said that while overall crime in Springfield is down 9 percent from a year ago, the category of aggravated assaults, which includes shootings, is up 26 percent.

"The city of Springfield right now needs our attention in solving gun crimes and seizing illegal guns, so that is what we are going to focus on," Clapprood said.

So far this year, Springfield police have seized 111 illegally possessed firearms.  In 2020, 275 guns were taken off the streets, which a police department spokesman said was the highest number in at least five years.                                  

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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