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Springfield, DOJ reach deal on police reforms

Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood spoke about planned reforms during a meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee
Paul Tuthill
Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood spoke about planned reforms during a meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee

Changes will be made to training, evaluations, and discipline

Significant progress is being reported on reforming the police department in Springfield, Massachusetts more than two years after a scathing federal report.

The city and the U.S. Department of Justice have negotiated an agreement on changes to police policies and procedures including officer training, evaluations, discipline, and the handling of civilian complaints, according to Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood,

“These changes will be done and we can do it,” Clapprood said.

The final agreement still needs to be signed off on by a federal judge, said Clapprood. The department will also need to come into line with changes that will be implemented as a result of a Massachusetts police reform law.

“I wanted the reform bill changes and the DOJ agreement on the same track and get this train going,” Clapprood said.

Addressing a remote meeting of the City Council Public Safety Committee, the police commissioner said some of the changes will also need to be accepted by the city’s police unions.

Negotiations between the city and the Justice Department began after the federal agency released a report in June 2020 that said a two-year investigation had found the police department’s narcotics officers had routinely used excessive force such as punching people in the face in violation of constitutional rights.

The reforms that have been agreed to include a field officer training program, yearly evaluations for every officer, and a disciplinary policy that has incremental punishments related to the severity and frequency of rules violations.

“(It) starts off with a written reprimand or small suspension and then up to termination unless it is an egregious event and then it could just be termination,” explained Clapprood.

Even before the negotiations with the Justice Department concluded, a number of reforms were undertaken, said Clapprood. These include a new bilingual civilian complaint form available on the police department’s new website, changes to the Internal Investigations Unit, and the implementation of a body-worn camera program.

“The body-worn cameras have been a godsend to us with the citizen complaints,” Clapprood said. “What was a tough program to sell to (officers) in the beginning…now they don’t want to go out without them.”

Last summer, Clapprood announced the Narcotics Unit was being disbanded and its members re-assigned to the newly-created Firearms Investigation Unit. The department also assigned officers to several multi-agency task forces responsible for investigating drug trafficking. Clapprood said this was not done as an attempt to remove the stain the former Narcotics Unit left on the police department.

“DOJ was advised that we are not hiding the Narcotics Unit,” Clapprood said. “DOJ was aware of it and okay with it.”

City Councilor Victor Davila, the newly-appointed chairman of the Public Safety Committee said he was pleased with the commissioner’s report on the progress of reforms.

“My goal is to have, as I am sure it is yours Commissioner, the best police department in the country,” Davila said.

Clapprood said the department is continuing to work on receiving certification from the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. She said the department has no chance of achieving the higher standard of being accredited because of the condition of the more than 50-year-old police headquarters building.

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.