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Springfield Officials React To Scathing Report On Excessive Force

Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood.
Greg Saulmon
The Republican / masslive.com
Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood.

Springfield, Massachusetts, city and police officials have responded to a scathing government report that charges the narcotics bureau with a pattern of excessive force with no accountability.

The two-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Springfield narcotics officers repeatedly harmed suspects, including by punching them in the head - and did not report the incidents.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, blamed the department's "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." 

In a press conference, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said police procedures are being updated and that most officers will now be required to wear body-cameras, though not in all cases.

"It'll be a transparency tool for us," she said. "And it'll also, I feel, protect the officers from unwarranted claims."

Clapprood also said the incidents mentioned in the report are already under investigation and none involved lethal weapons.

"The police department probably never has had a policy regarding - if you put your hands on someone, it's excessive force, we should be reporting it," she said. "And if that's the way that law enforcement is going and that's the standards they want us to meet, then that's the change we'll make."

Northampton attorney Luke Ryan has brought many excessive use-of-force cases against the department. He pointed out the report comes from a federal agency that is not hostile towards police.

"This is a mindset in Washington that is as deferential as it could possibly be to law enforcement. And they've issued a scathing report," Ryan said. "And so I don't know how you could, as a city leader, not look at something like this and feel like that there needs to be a real reckoning."

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the report is "disturbing and disappointing." He then highlighed the fact that the U.S. Attorney thanked the police department for being cooperative during the investigation.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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