Department of Justice reaches agreement with Springfield about policing – Reminder Publications

SPRINGFIELD The announcement the city of Springfield has entered into a settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) was met with positive reactions from both Mayor Domenic Sarno as well as people who have been critical of the actions of some members of the department.

Sarno released the following statement: Our brave and dedicated men and women in blue do a tremendous job day in and day out. Policing is a dangerous but still a very honorable profession and everyone knows that throughout my career I have been one of SPDs (Springfield Police Departments) biggest supporters in good times and bad. However, Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood and I found these issues and deficiencies concerning and we cooperated fully with the DOJ in their investigation. We acknowledge that past misconduct should not have occurred and it is our goal that it does not happen in the future. Simply put, its a balance between public safety and cop accountability. Working together with the DOJ and our internal city team, including former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Roderick L. Ireland, the city is striving to have the best Police Department possible. Additionally, we were quick to move to correct and enhance our policing practices once these issues were found. Since that time, under Superintendent Clapproods leadership, our SPD have implemented numerous reforms and initiatives aimed and focused on improving and enhancing our policing practices, training, and document and record tracking to increase accountability and transparency.

According to information from the DOJ, The settlement agreement, in the form of a proposed consent decree, which must be approved by a federal district court judge, would resolve the United States claim that the city and the Narcotics Bureau of the Springfield Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that deprived individuals of their rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Under the agreement, the Springfield Police Department will improve policies and training related to officers use of force. These improvements will ensure that officers avoid force whenever possible through the use of de-escalation tactics; that officers know when force can and cannot be used; and that officers report all instances where force is used. In addition, the Springfield Police Department will provide better supervision to officers and improve internal investigations of complaints of officer misconduct. When officers violate use-of-force policies, the agreement will ensure that the Springfield Police Department holds officers accountable.

The settlement is the resolution for illegal conditions within the Springfield Police Departments former Narcotics Bureau.

According to the DOJ documents, The Narcotics Bureau was a unit of SPD plainclothes officers tasked with apprehending those suspected of narcotics offenses and executing narcotics search and arrest warrants. On July 8, 2021, SPD announced that it was dismantling its Narcotics Bureau and renaming it the Firearms Investigation Unit. All Narcotics Bureau officers have been reassigned to the newly created Firearms Investigation Unit, which focuses on reducing gun violence in Springfield. On April 13, 2018, the United States opened a pattern or practice investigation into SPDs Narcotics Bureau.

The United States issued a report on SPDs Narcotics Bureau on July 8, 2020. As a result of its investigation, the United States found reasonable cause to believe that SPDs Narcotics Bureau engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

SPDs Narcotics Bureau engaged in a pattern or practice of using force that is objectively unreasonable under the circumstances in which the force was applied, including the threat posed by the suspect and the severity of the alleged underlying crime, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. SPD Narcotics Bureau officers punched individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalated encounters with civilians too quickly. SPD Narcotics Bureau officers also punched subjects head areas with closed fists as an immediate response to resistance without attempting to obtain compliance through other less serious uses of force. SPD Narcotics Bureau officers conducted unnecessarily forceful takedowns that could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries without legal justification. SPD Narcotics Bureau officers often failed to report use of force incidents that should have been reported and made reports that were inconsistent with other available evidence, including video and photographs.

Clapprood said, We have also made transparency a cornerstone of our operations. The Springfield Police Department has acquired early warning intervention software that collects and assesses data to identify trends in troublesome conduct, and I am very proud that all sworn personnel now wear body-worn cameras while on duty. Our Use-of-Force and Internal Investigations Unit policies have been modernized, and we have begun the process toward achieving the departments first-ever, voluntary and self-initiated state certification.

The superintendent continued, We have already seen encouraging outcomes as a result of these reforms. In 2021 body-worn camera footage helped to resolve all seven use-of-force complaints against officers, including one against the now-former Narcotics Unit, with zero of the complaints being sustained. This work will continue in the coming years as we plan for additional changes, including a new state-of-the-art records management system and transforming how we respond to, report and investigate use-of-force calls.

City Councilor Tracye Whitfield said, On Feb. 2, 2021, Councilor [Justin] Hurst, Sen. [Adam] Gomez, state Rep. [Orlando] Ramos (city councilor at the time), Councilor [Malo] Brown and I sent a letter requesting the DOJ and the US Attorney enter into a Consent Decree with the city of Springfield to ensure the much needed changes highlighted in the scathing DOJ report on Springfield Police Narcotics Bureaus civilian abuse are adequately addressed. I am so pleased to witness the decision made by the US Attorney and the Department of Justices to do just that, enter into a consent decree also called a settlement agreement.

Hurst noted, The city of Springfield is at a pivotal time in its history that cant be left for chance and having the same people who created the problem solve it after years of inaction was never a viable solution. It is comforting to know that from this point forward an independent and objective third party will have oversight over much need reforms in our Police Department.

Bishop Talbot Swan II, president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, said, The need for the department to improve policies and training relative to the use of force and to ensure that officers use proper de-escalation tactics and respect the rights of residents is long overdue. The systemic racism that has resulted in disproportionate abuse of Black and other non-white citizens has long been a problem of a department labeled by some as one of the worst departments in the nation.

Tara Parrish, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Project (PVP), said, This shows that the Department of Justice listened during multiple meetings with PVP and the NAACP, and took the communitys experience seriously. They looked thoughtfully at the harm that has been done in our city by the practices of the Springfield Police Department and concluded that the Sarno Administration could not be trusted to enact needed reforms on its own.

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Department of Justice reaches agreement with Springfield about policing - Reminder Publications

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