Springfield Police Announce Changes In Response To Scathing Federal Investigation

In this Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 photo, Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood addresses city councilors during a meeting in Springfield, Mass. (Matt O'Brien/AP)
Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood addresses city councilors during a meeting in Springfield, Mass. in 2019. (Matt O'Brien/AP)

Springfield, Massachusetts, officials say they've been making changes in the police department in response to a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The July 2020 report was particularly critical of the Springfield narcotics bureau, where investigators found officers often used excessive force, including punching in the face and aggressive take-downs, with no accountability.

In a press conference, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood highlighted a few new measures already underway.

They include the use of body cams on more than 340 police officers, a more streamlined system for making complaints and better record-keeping for past incidents.

As for the narcotics bureau, Clapprood said it's been revamped with "new personnel, new way of taking in money, new way of taking in drugs, new way of collecting evidence, and as far as I know with the narcotics department, zero citizen complaints for 2020."

One city councilor who's been critical of police misconduct, Justin Hurst, said the reforms Clapprood mentioned are welcome — but he's not satisfied just yet.

"I'm less concerned with what they say they're going to do, and more concerned with what it is that they are doing," Hurst said. "It might take some time for things to play out."

For instance, Hurst said he will only consider the narcotics bureau truly revamped if all the officers mentioned in the federal report are gone.

"And the question still remains is, is that even enough?" he said. "I mean, if you read the DOJ report, like I did, some of the incidents were absolutely atrocious. And so the question is: What else is happening with those individuals who were highlighted in the DOJ report?"

A police department spokesperson could not be reached to get that answer.

Clapprood also announced a new way to assess officers for promotions: prioritizing those with the courage to stand up against misconduct.

She said the department has been working on better training of new officers, but that it's been hard to find enough recruits, since fewer people want to become police these days.

When asked about changing how officers are trained to use force, Clapprood said she's waiting to see what reforms the state legislature passes. Currently, she said the Springfield police follow the guidelines from the Massachusetts Police Training Council.

"We can't go rogue with a use-of-force training here, and not have it be the standard throughout the state," Clapprood said. "Should that change with a new police reform bill, we will be changing also, and we will be up-to-date with that."

She said the controversial use of the chokehold as a way to subdue suspects is permitted only in extreme circumstances.

Hurst said he doesn't understand why the chokehold is not banned outright, as he expects it will be in the state's police reform legislation.

Springfield's health commmissioner, Helen Caulton-Harris, also discussed the creation of a new Office of Racial Equity to gauge the level of systemic racism in city departments, including the police, and strategize how to fight it.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media on Sept. 18, 2020.



More from WBUR

Listen Live