Springfield, Massachusetts officials are touting progress on police reforms following a federal investigation that found unconstitutional use-of-force by narcotics officers.
The narcotics unit has been overhauled with new supervisors and policies, according to Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood. Narcotics officers must wear body cameras now. There are new reporting requirements for when a suspect is injured. No civilian complaint has been lodged against a narcotics officer this year, according to Clapprood.
" So, higher expectations and they are meeting the standards," said Clapprood.
Acting on recommendations from a policing consultant the city hired a few years ago, changes have been made to policies and procedures at the Internal Investigations Unit. The forms needed to file a complaint against -- or make a compliment about – a police officer are now available online.
"We've been making great progress working toward those recommendations," said Clapprood.
Still, the Springfield police have not made changes to use-of-force training, which was one of the recommendations contained in the scathing U.S. Department of Justice report released on July 8th.
The federal investigation, which looked at a two year period, found narcotics officers routinely punched people in the head and neck and used unnecessary “takedowns.” Police then manufactured official reports to justify the violence.
"We are making changes," said Clapprood. She said officers assigned to the narcotics division are being more carefully screened. "I think we are on the right path."
At a City Hall press conference, Clapprood said the policing reforms are a work in progress.
"It is more than the community against us. It is more than us against the community or us against DOJ or us against any board," said Clapprood. "It is about team work. "
Clapprood said she is looking forward to a public forum on police-community relations scheduled on September 26th. Because of the pandemic it will be held remotely.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city has been cooperating with the DOJ and is fully committed to reforming the police department.
"I again reiterate that what has occurred in the past should not have happened and our goal is to make sure it does not happen again," said Sarno.
Last month, Sarno announced he had hired retired Massachusetts Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, a Springfield native, to advise him on reforming the police department.
Springfield City Solicitor Ed Pikula said making the Springfield Police Department better should dramatically reduce the number of lawsuits alleging officer misconduct.
"The police misconduct cases have reached a height I've never seen before in both the amounts of the verdicts and the numbers have had an uptick as well," said Pikula.
According to the DOJ, Springfield between 2006 and 2019 spent $5.25 million to settle police misconduct complaints. Bridgeport, Connecticut – a city of comparable size – paid just under $250,000 in settlements during the same period.