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Police Reform Advocates In Springfield Call For Consent Decree

Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield NAACP.
Douglas Hook
Masslive / masslive.com
Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield NAACP.

Advocates for police reform in Springfield, Massachusetts, say it's time for the federal government to force the police department to be accountable for its actions.

They are calling for a consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mayor Domenic Sarno has so far refused calls from community leaders to fire police commissioner Cheryl Clapprood.

And without a change in leadership, Bishop Talbert Swan of the Springfield NAACP said there's little chance the department will follow recommendations from a scathing federal report last summer. 

The report from the U.S. Department of Justice detailed excessive use of force by Springfield narcotics officers and little accountability.

"The systemic inequities and the corruption that exists in that department festered under her leadership," Swan said. "How, then, is she going to be the one to implement changes that she doesn't think need to happen?"

The city has held community forums on police matters since the report came out.

But Swan and others have said the meetings are highly controlled, and that neither the mayor nor the commissioner have offered any details on what reforms they've undertaken.

Swan said a consent decree — in which a federal judge can enforce an agreement — is the "next logical step."

"We understand that there are certain things that they are only going to do if they are under a legal order to do it," he said.

For instance, Swan said, officers could face punishment if they don't report all uses of force, and supervisors could be compelled to review all those cases.

Tara Parrish of the Pioneer Valley Project, another group calling for the consent decree, said it's much more likely to be approved in the Biden Administration, which has expressed a commitment to police reforms.

"We couldn't really make this call during the previous administration," Parrish said, "because it was clear that there was no will at the federal level to advance this tool. And we believe that things are very different now."

The U.S. Department of Justice declined comment, and a spokesman for the Springfield Police Department did not respond to an inquiry.

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.
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