Springfield Police Advised To Be More Urgent With Internal Investigations

Apr 5, 2019

Credit WAMC

   A consultant is suggesting changes in how the troubled Springfield, Massachusetts Police Department polices itself.  

    The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recommends the Springfield Police Department move more swiftly and decisively to conduct internal investigations into serious misconduct allegations and that there be a restructuring of the civilian board that reviews complaints about police officers.

   According to an executive summary of PERF’s findings, there were no sweeping reforms recommended for the department that is the focus of a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation and where a statewide grand jury last month indicted 14 current or former Springfield cops on criminal charges.

     The full report on the assessment, which the city paid PERF almost $129,000 to conduct last year, is expected to be available in about a month.

     In “egregious” cases that are likely to result in the termination of a police officer’s employment, an internal investigation should begin immediately rather than wait for a criminal case to run its course, according to the consultants.   Another recommendation is to have internal investigation supervisors report directly to the police commissioner.

     The assessment also identified an antiquated record-keeping system for internal investigations.

    Mayor Domenic Sarno said acting Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has already started to implement some of the recommendations.  

"There are some new things brought to our attention that I want to move on ASAP," said Sarno.

  The consultant’s report said the Community Police Hearing Board should be expanded from the current seven members to as many as 10 and that three of the volunteer board members should have law enforcement experience.  It also suggested that a retired judge, or experienced trial attorney, chair the board and that the city appoint an administrator to coordinate the board’s work.

           Sarno, who created the civilian hearing board with an executive order in 2010, said he was in favor of the changes called for in the PERF report.

  "I am looking to codify this to continue to enhance the public trust," said Sarno.

  The PERF report said Springfield should stick with the current management structure for the police department, which has a law enforcement professional at the top of the chain of command.  Twice since 2016, the City Council has voted to replace the office of police commissioner with a five-person board.   Sarno has ignored the ordinance. 

  To bring more veteran supervision to the police department, Clapprood this week promoted five officers, with a combined 115 years of experience, to the rank of sergeant.  

  At a ceremony where the five received their new badges, Clapprood told them to have the courage to hold accountable the officers under their command.

  " We have learned some tough lessons and those lessons are we have to hold people accountable and you can do it in such a way that you gain their respect and keep the morale up at the same time," said Clapprood.

   One of the newly appointed sergeants, Derek Cook, was arrested in 2008.  Inside the police headquarters, he punched two supervisors knocking one of them unconscious.  Cook later pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge and paid a fine.  He served a 90-day suspension.

   Cook said he’ll use what he called the ups and downs of his own 27-year career to mentor young police officers.

    "Sometimes if you make a mistake, you can be judged for the rest of your career. However, I would tell you, having faith and hope, I believe everyone is redeemable," said Cook. "All of us who have gotten this far in our careers have had stumbles, but we have been able to recover and move forward with pride."

    In a drive to fill more vacancies in the police department supervisor ranks, Clapprood said she plans to appoint a new captain and two new lieutenants in the next few weeks.