The police commissioner in Springfield, Massachusetts is vowing to press forward with reforms to the police department. But after a recent jury verdict in a police brutality lawsuit, some elected officials are growing impatient.
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri said he anticipates shortly receiving a consultant’s report on improving the department’s internal investigations and is pushing forward with a body-worn camera program for all police officers. He said changes to police training and the use of new equipment, such as Tasers, have already helped de-escalate violent situations.
"We're working to bring this department into the 21st Century as quickly as possible," Barbieri said.
Barbieri updated members of the Springfield City Council at a meeting of the council’s Public Safety Committee Monday night. The meeting was scheduled following a federal jury verdict in January that awarded a Springfield man $250,000 in a police brutality lawsuit.
In finding that police officer John Hervieux unnecessarily beat Lee Hutchins with a police baton while trying to break up a domestic dispute in 2013, the jury said the city had a “policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”
An internal investigation had exonerated the officer.
Barbieri said he is waiting for a detailed final report from the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington DC-based consultant the city hired last year to recommend changes in the way the police department investigates allegations of officer misconduct.
"The goal here is to get the best, most effective, most truthful, most community-friendly police department, and I think the internal investigations process is critical," said Barbieri.
The police commissioner said he wants the internal investigations unit to adopt the best practices of other police departments in the country.
"The best biggest picture is community trust," said Barbeiri. " To have the best model in the country buy in and if there are any weaknesses to resolve them."
City Councilors, upset with recent police misconduct cases, lawsuits, and expensive judgements or settlements, have tried to press changes upon the police department. The council has twice, over the mayor’s veto, voted to replace the police commissioner with a five-member civilian board. Mayor Domenic Sarno, claiming the council has overstepped its legal authority, has refused to appoint the board.
As for the body camera program, Barbieri said it could be six months, or longer, before police are using the technology.
City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the body camera program should not be delayed.
" We are not re-inventing the wheel," said Ramos.
Ramos said he credits Barbieri for trying to make changes.
"I think he is doing the best he can with what he has," said Ramos. "However, when we see these stories come out publicaly and we are still in litigation for cases related to police misconduct it is discouraging."
In 2017, MassLive reported Springfield had paid out $3.9 million over the last decade for police misconduct cases.
Last October, the City Council approved an $885,000 settlement to a lawsuit brought by four men who said off-duty officers beat them up outside a bar in 2015.