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Regional News

'Wholly Missing The Boat,' Springfield Police Delay Use-Of-Force Policy Changes

Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood in Springfield, Massachusetts, said this week her department has not changed its use-of-force policy, despite a scathing federal report and suggestions from the City Council.

Clapprood told councilors it doesn't make sense to make changes now while the state legislature is trying to come up with a wide-ranging police accountability bill.

Council President Justin Hurst disagreed.

"I think we're making a critical mistake, not getting this stuff in writing now," Hurst said.

This comes on the heels of a Department of Justice report highlighting excessive and unreported use of force by Springfield officers. 

Panelist Elizabeth Román said she thinks a lot of people feel Clapprood's decision to leave it up to state lawmakers is very disappointing, given the pressure from the council, protests over police brutality, and now the federal report. 

"I think Justin Hurst is saying what the community feels," Román said. "Why not take a proactive approach? And why are you waiting for the state to demand you to do this? Why aren't you just doing it to show goodwill to, you know, the constituents that live in the city?"

Román said it doesn't make sense to her that Clapprood wouldn't demand that police officers try to de-escalate before using force.

"Why wouldn't you want to train all of your officers to pursue that path before getting into an altercation with someone?" she said.

Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst in June 2020.
Credit Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican / masslive.com/photos
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The Republican / masslive.com
Springfield city council president Justin Hurst in June.

Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the public safety committee, said he's considering an ordinance to force the changes the council wants. He said he didn't do so at first, because he thought he had Clapprood's word that she'd go along with the proposal.

Panelist Larry Parnass said he's flummoxed by Clapprood's position.

"A police commissioner oversees police, but that's a job that is a position of public trust," Parnass said. "It's incumbent on someone in that job to act in the public behalf. And if this was a minor issue about some kind of pension reform, or it was not such a burning public concern right now, I could see waiting so that you don't do needless changes. But the message to the public that she's communicating, probably not intentionally, is that it's more important to make life easier for the police, and to protect them."

Parnass noted Clapprood's recent comments about the use of body cameras by Springfield police.

"She said, in the course of outlining that, that this is a way to protect officers from false claims," he said. "And yes, true. But I think she's wholly missing the boat on the point of where the public concern is, and how [the] public could be reassured."

Also this week, amid concerns over COVID-19, some area colleges and public school districts have decided to use remote learning this fall.

UMass Amherst reversed course late this week, and will allow only some students who must take classes in person to be on campus because of their major, or other circumstances. Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges are doing something similar. The Springfield Public Schools are going with remote learning for at least the first quarter of the school year.

Also this week, a tropical storm caused hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts and Connecticut to lose power earlier this week. Widespread outages persist in Connecticut that might not be resolved until next week. That's left some state officials upset, and regulators say they plan to investigate.

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