SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A year-long investigation into the Springfield Police Department’s Narcotics Unit has revealed what the U.S. Justice Department is calling a “pattern” of excessive force.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood pledged in a news conference Thursday morning to continue to cooperate with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to address police deficiencies cited in their report.
The Office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced that the investigation found the Narcotics Bureau’s pattern or practice of excessive force is directly attributable to systemic deficiencies in policies, which fail to require detailed and consistent use-of-force reporting, and accountability systems that do not provide meaningful reviews of uses of force.
Over the course of the investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed over 100,000 pages of written policies, procedures, training materials, internal reports, and video footage from the Springfield Police Department. In addition, they conducted interviews with Springfield Police Officers, supervisors, and city officials. The DOJ said they also met with community members and local advocates.
“Police Officers have a very dangerous job but this is very disturbing and disappointing because the report identifies serious issues that must be addressed. No one is above the law, including police officers. Now that the investigation has concluded, it is my goal to continue to work cooperatively with the DOJ to remedy the deficiencies identified so that policing in Springfield can indeed be safer, lawful, and more effective. The DOJ stated that they are encouraged by SPD’s cooperation and by its initial efforts to address reform. DOJ stated its hope that ‘SPD will take advantage of its new leadership (Commissioner Clapprood) and the retention of an outside consulting firm (Police Executive Research Forum) to resolve the issues’ identified. Together with Commissioner Clapprood, my administration will work to develop and implement sustainable reform measures outlined by the DOJ.”Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno
Commissioner Clapprood stated in the news conference that she is “committed to addressing the deficiencies identified by the DOJ with changes to the policy, training, and accountability systems within the Narcotics Bureau and to the police department as a whole through the following four remedies listed in the report.
The Four “remedies” listed in section IV of the report:
- 1. Enhance Force Reporting and Review Procedures. SPD should implement a use-of-force reporting procedure that: (1) requires officers to report all uses of force, including hands-on uses of force, uses of force that do not result in injury, and uses of force that do not occur with an arrestee; and (2) instructs supervisors on how to review uses of force and implement disciplinary action where necessary. Officers and supervisors should receive comprehensive training on the new reporting and review procedures.
- 2. Adopt New use-of-force Training. New training curricula should explicitly address the importance of avoiding fist strikes to the head, neck, and face area, and avoiding kicking suspects. SPD should also expand its training on bystander liability to ensure officers intervene to prevent problematic events from escalating and report excessive uses of force that they witness.
- 3. Review and Revise IIU Policies and Training. IIU requires new policies, procedures, and training to ensure that civilian complaints are properly taken and that IIU officers use proper interviewing and investigative techniques in order to conduct meaningful investigations.
- 4. Increase Accountability Mechanisms. SPD should adopt policies and procedures so that officer discipline is meaningful, consistent, and appropriate. SPD should also address the fact that administrative charges can be dismissed due to timeliness issues.
Commissioner Clapprood also ordered the Narcotics Unit to wear body worn cameras.
Full News Conference:
“I have the full confidence in Police Commissioner Clapprood and her leadership team to continue to address and implement the changes needed and identified by the DOJ report. Even before the report came out, we had already identified areas of improvement and took action. We continue to work towards gaining state certification and accreditation – a process aimed at providing a thorough evaluation and ensuring standards and the implementation of our body-worn camera system just to name a few,” Sarno added.
City Council President Justin Hurst released the following statement on behalf of the investigation:
“The United States Department of Justice Report confirmed about the Springfield Police Department as a whole, and the Narcotics Bureau specifically, what we have known for a long time. There is a pattern and practice of use of excessive force that is systemic and embedded into the culture of policing in Springfield. This culture devalues the bodies of our residents and provides them with little to no opportunity for recourse. The system for review of excessive force cases is purposely designed to fail victims while insulating officers from being held accountable for their actions. These systems that contribute to this brazen culture of policing are perpetuated by the actions and inactions of those in the highest levels of leadership in the police department and extend to those who are responsible for appointing them. The culture within our police department that residents so desperately want to see reformed will never occur as long as those responsible with trying to reform it are products of that same culture.”City Council President Justin Hurst
Attorney Lelling added that the Springfield Police Department and the City of Springfield cooperated with the investigation and have already started to make changes.
City Councilor and Chairman of Public Safety Orlando Ramos said in response to the report that he is “appalled and extremely disgusted with what was exposed.”
“The lack of leadership, lack of accountability, and the blatant apathy across the board are equally as indefensible as the acts of violence themselves. Every single person inside or outside the department who participated, aided, or otherwise stood complacent should be ashamed of themselves! As chairman of Public Safety, I am demanding that each of the four (4) “remedies” listed in section IV of the report be implemented immediately, and I will do so in the form of an Order of the Springfield City Council,” Ramos continued.
Councilor Ramos has also requested an update from Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood on the four “use of force” policy recommendations made by the City Council last month, all of which are supported by this newly released DOJ report:
- Chokeholds and “carotid restraints” shall be explicitly banned under the department’s use of force policy
- “De-escalation” shall be listed as the first option in all five levels of force in the policy
- SPD shall create a tracking system for citizens’ complaints and expedite the implementation of an Early Intervention System (EIS) to help identify, intervene, and if necessary, retrain potentially problematic officers. Additionally, complaints must be added retroactively to help identify officers currently in need of intervention
- Citizen Complaint Form—Begin accepting complaints by phone and online, and expand the information provided to residents as to the process used to address a citizen complaint and what possible outcomes there are.
Councilor Ramos also told 22News he is going to be scheduling a Public Safety Committee meeting with their consultants to discuss potential further action/legislation.
“While the emotional and psychological toll that this has imposed on our community cannot be quantified, the financial toll can be measured. In fact, the report states that the City paid over $5.25 million in police misconduct settlements between 2006 and 2019. By contrast, two nearby cities of similar size, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Lowell, Massachusetts, appear to have paid $249,000 and $817,000, respectively, in police misconduct settlements during the same 13-year time-frame. This supports the idea that police misconduct affects everyone either directly or indirectly. This affects all of us! Every single taxpayer in our city should be outraged with the damage this has caused to our city!”City Councilor and Chairman of Public Safety Orlando Ramos
The investigation was conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and was announced on April 13, 2018. Its findings, a 28-page report, comes as a petition demanding the removal of the current police commissioner Cheryl Clapprood has been created with over 600 signatures.
Petition created to remove Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, mayor releases statement
Clapprood, a 40 year veteran of the department, was appointed police commissioner in September 2019, after serving as acting commissioner for six months following the sudden retirement of then-Commissioner John Barbieri. Barbieri was with the department for 31-years. At a news conference announcing his retirement, Mayor Domenic Sarno told 22News it was a “mutually accepted decision.” The mayor then named Clapprood, who was deputy police chief at the time, to the acting commissioner. She was officially sworn in on October 8, 2019.
Springfield Police spokesperson Ryan Walsh confirmed with 22News that Springfield Police received the DOJ report Wednesday evening and are reviewing the findings before making a formal statement.