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City reaches agreement with feds after use of force probe

April 13, 2022 GMT

The Justice Department and the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, on Wednesday announced an agreement on police oversight and use-of-force policies that comes almost two years after a federal civil rights investigation found that the department’s narcotics unit routinely used excessive force during arrests.

The consent decree, which needs a judge’s approval, requires officers to report all uses of force, including punches and kicks; requires officers to intervene to prevent the use of force; and creates a way to better investigate allegations of misconduct, said Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

The settlement also requires the hiring of an independent monitor to make sure the department in the state’s third largest city is adhering to the its requirements.

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“This consent decree sets the Springfield Police Department on a pathway to restoring the public’s trust by assuring that policing is lawful,” Clarke said at a news conference in the city attended by city leaders including Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood and Mayor Domenic Sarno.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins noted that the department has about 500 sworn officers, yet the problems were limited to the narcotics unit, which had about two dozen members and has since been disbanded.

“Today is the first step in repairing the harm and mistrust their misconduct and violence caused,” she said. “After lengthy negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that includes significant and sustainable reforms to ensure effective and constitutional policing going forward in the city of Springfield.”

Rollins also said she was disappointed that a jury in December declined to convict a member of the narcotics unit, who had been indicted on charges of verbally and physically abusing car theft suspects.

Clapprood said the department has already been working on reforms, such as updated training and a leadership school for supervisors.

“Let us be as professional as we possibly can be, let us be as accountable as we possibly can be so that you can see the job we’re doing and the efforts we’re making are to make Springfield a safer community,” she said.

Sarno noted that city’s police department is the largest in the state that uses body-worn cameras.

The results of the Justice Department’s two-year investigation released in July 2020 found that officers in the narcotics bureau used force “impulsively rather than tactically,” regularly resorting to blows to the head to gain compliance when a suspect wasn’t a physical threat without attempting other less severe uses of force.

The officers were then rarely held accountable, according to the report.

In one case, an officer punched a 17-year-old boy as he rode a motorbike past a group of officers making arrests, investigators said. In another instance, an officer struck a 22-year-old man in the face after a foot pursuit even though the man didn’t pose a physical threat.