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Justice Department and Springfield officials announce police department consent decree

Almost two years after a federal report highly critical of the Springfield, Massachusetts, police department, the U.S. Department of Justice and the city have announced they've agreed on terms for a consent decree.

In July 2020, the Department of Justice accused the Springfield police narcotics unit of using excessive violence with impunity.

This week, the D.O.J. announced, in conjunction with city officials, that they have agreed on a series of reforms. It’s the first consent decree for the Biden administration.

During a press conference Wednesday in Springfield, Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, listed several reforms in the decree.

“Officers will report all uses of force, including punches and kicks, something which was not previously required in the Springfield Police Department,” Clarke said. “In addition, officers have a duty to intervene to prevent excessive force.”

The agreement also calls for Springfield’s new civilian police commission to have subpoena power and a budget.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins pledged to work closely with Springfield to meet the decree requirements.

“These problems…did not happen overnight. So we don't expect to fix these problems overnight either,” Rollins said. “But we do expect for them to be improved and to work toward eliminating them entirely.”

The deal must now go to a judge, and if approved, an independent monitor will be hired to enforce it.

The police department's narcotics unit was disbanded in 2021. The reforms will apply to the entire police force.

Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood said she’ll now work with the police union to accept the changes.

“Some of them, I explained to them, make sense to me to make us a better police department and do not hurt them,” Clapprood said. “They, of course, understand that, and I think they want it. They'll just have to maneuver through what they're offered in return for making some of these changes.”

Joseph Gentile, president of Springfield's patrolman's union, said the union plans to comply with the consent decree as long as it doesn't conflict with any collective bargaining rights.

"We've been working with the city and the superintendent and we think we can reach an agreement," Gentile said.

Updated: April 18, 2022 at 12:20 PM EDT
This report was updated to include union response.
Karen 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. Her features and documentaries have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, Third Coast Audio Festival Award, and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.
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