Springfield City Councilors want to pick up the pace of police reforms in the wake of a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Changes in the Springfield Police Department’s use-of-force training is one of the recommendations from the Justice Department after an investigation found narcotics officers routinely used excessive force, including punching suspects in the head and neck, in a pattern that violated constitutional rights.
But Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said there is no point in making changes before the sweeping police reforms now being considered by Massachusetts legislators are finalized.
" That reform bill and when it takes affect will have a big outcome on what we do with a lot of our policies," said Clapprood.
Speaking about the DOJ report for the first time with City Councilors at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee Monday, Clapprood said the department has started to alter its procedures for reporting excessive force incidents and conducting internal investigations.
"I think we are off to a good start," said Clapprood.
City Council President Justin Hurst said the police department should not delay making changes to its use-of-force policy.
"I think we are making a critical mistake," said Hurst. "It would seem to me that if you want to show the citizens of Springfield that you mean business you would make some of those policy changes now and then amend them once the legislature acts."
City Councilor Orlando Ramos, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, recalled that in early June during the George Floyd protests – a month before the DOJ report was issued – he urged changes to the use-of-force policy including an explicit ban on chokeholds and prioritizing de-escalation.
"These are two very simple changes we could make immediately," said Ramos. "So, I am wondering why we have not moved forward with any changes?"
City Solicitor Ed Pikula said he is having discussions with Justice Department lawyers about an enforceable agreement on reforming the police department.
"I don't want to leave the impression that we are sitting on our hands and not acting swiftly," said Pikula. "Everyone does want a better police department."
City Councilor Trayce Whitfield praised Clapprood for requiring narcotics officers to be outfitted with body cameras.
" The body-worn cameras will be great help to prevent some of the things that have happened in the past," said Whitfield.
Clapprood said there has been a turnover in personnel in the narcotics bureau since the 2013-2018 period covered by the DOJ investigation. She said none of the supervisors in the bureau during that time are still there. The federal report did not identify any officers by name.
One change that recently took place is that the form to make a citizen complaint about the Police Department is now available online.