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Rollins: Consent decree should improve Springfield's 'negative brand on law enforcement'

The top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts was candid Thursday evening when discussing the shortcomings of the police department in Springfield, Massachusetts. This came during a virtual public meeting designed to give the public a chance to ask questions about the complex agreement between the federal government and Springfield over police reform.

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins fielded many nuts-and-bolts questions from the community about a proposed consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Springfield Police. Rollins pledged to keep the public in the loop around developments and meetings going forward.

"As a result of your complaints, we are here at this place where we now are getting hopefully some significant changes to this department that has inflected harm, quite frankly, and been a negative brand on law enforcement," Rollins said.

The agreement announced this month would require several changes to the Springfield Police Department's policies. That includes more detailed tracking of officers' use-of-force and a requirement that officers speak up when their colleagues use excessive force.

 U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins during a virtual forum on the consent decree between the federal government and Springfield.
Screenshot/Adam Frenier
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U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins during a virtual forum on the consent decree between the federal government and Springfield.

The proposal comes after a scathing 2020 report, in which the Department of Justice accused the city's narcotics division of a pattern of excessive force and no accountability. Springfield Police leadership has since disbanded the division.

The consent decree calls for a federal monitor to ensure Springfield is following the deal, and changes to the city's newly reformed police commission. The agreement does not take effect until a federal judge signs off on it. But, Rollins said, that does not mean that the city has to wait to implement some of the changes.

"I want to believe that the mayor and [Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood] are actively working on many of the things that we're talking about right now, so that they aren't just starting once the judge says, 'Moving forward, we're going to do this.'"

The event was hosted by the Pioneer Valley Project and the Springfield chapter of the NAACP. Dozens of people, including city councilors, community leaders and residents attended.

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