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Springfield Police Superintendent worried about staff shortages

Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood said the Springfield Police Department is having trouble recruiting new officers and retaining the ones it has.

The top cop in Springfield, Massachusetts warns the police department is seriously understaffed heading into the warmer – and typically busier – months.

Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood warned the Springfield Police Department is currently in a “fragile” state.

“Its fragile because we are short-handed, no one is coming around the corner to help us, we are having a hard time retaining and recruiting (officers),” she said.

Speaking at a hearing of the Springfield City Council Public Safety Committee Tuesday, Clapprood said the 500-officer department is currently short more than two-dozen people.

Recruiting for law enforcement careers is a problem nationwide that has led to some police departments offering cash signing bonuses. Clapprood said two Springfield officers recently resigned – one took a law enforcement job in Connecticut and the other with the police department in Sarasota, Florida.

“You can go down to Sarasota and get a $25,000 signing bonus,” she said. “If you are young with no roots locally, that’s understandable.”

The police superintendent told councilors the department’s overtime budget may need to be supplemented so there is adequate public safety for events in the city this summer.

“The lifeline here is the overtime budget to keep details filled and to keep people downtown safe whenever we have something downtown,” Clapprood said.

She said other steps are being considered including disbanding the traffic division.

“I truly believe traffic enforcement is needed more, not less, but I don’t find myself in the position to do that,” Clapprood said.

The Springfield Police Academy is expected to graduate 26 new officers at the end of May, but Clapprood said they’ll require weeks of additional training before they can be sent out in patrol cars.

For the last 11 months, the Springfield Police Department has undergone sweeping reforms to its policies and procedures around use-of-force and record-keeping under the terms of a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The changes require additional training for patrol officers and supervisors which removes them from their normal duties.

“This consent decree is a constant battle for us to meet the agreement. We have not missed a deadline. It is asking a lot of the officers,” Clapprood said.

City Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce, chair of the Public Safety Committee, pledged to help Clapprood find solutions to the staff shortages.

“So, how do we work together for the common good of the city of Springfield? My door is open to you,” Click-Bruce said.

One impediment to recruiting, Clapprood believes, is the 10-year residency requirement for new police officers in Springfield. City Councilor Mike Fenton, a member of the Residency Compliance Commission, said the impact of the residency rules on all city departments is being closely monitored.

“We’re going to make a full report on what the impacts of that requirement have been on the operations of various departments,” Fenton said.

Councilors also suggested Clapprood expand a recruitment campaign in the local schools by beginning in the middle school grades.

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.