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Federal consent decree hearing highlights training for Springfield police officers

The U.S. Federal Court House located in Springfield's Metro Center.
Nirvani Williams
The U.S. Federal Court House located in Springfield's Metro Center.

A quarterly federal status hearing took place this week on what progress and reforms have been made within the Springfield police department, since being under a consent decree for two years.

City attorneys and Department of Justice officials were present at the federal courthouse in Springfield Wednesday. The compliance evaluator, appointed by a federal judge to monitor the department’s progress, said several new use of force policies have been created and Springfield officers are getting trained on those now. The evaluator added there is also a nearly completed manual for the police commission to reference as new policies and trainings get rolled out.

Judge Katherine Robertson, the federal judge overseeing the consent decree, acknowledged Lawrence Akers being in attendance at the hearing and his appointment as the new Springfield police superintendent.

“It’s clear there will be a change in the [police] department, and whoever will be taking on these responsibilities, should understand the importance of the consent decree,” Robertson said.

Tracey Carpenter, an organizer at the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, was at the hearing and said she was disappointed at Akers’ promotion.

“I really wanted to see us do a national search, and if the local person is the best, the local person is the best. But we cannot expect to come out of this and not address the culture of policing that we need to change,” Carpenter said.

On the updates from the hearing, Carpenter said the city should be doing more.

"What I found interesting from the judge is that she continues to encourage upon all parties the local expertise in the region and if we are tapping into all of the local resources that's available here, which we have not," Carpenter said.

Tara Parrish, the executive director at the Pioneer Valley Project, also attended the hearing.

“This process is really community facing, which promotes this transformation that we need here, which is a transformation towards transparency and reciprocity, right? Where the community and our system of policing can undertake something that could be a partnership eventually,” Parrish said.

The judge asked for a document of the progress made within the police department to be crafted in simple terms for the public to access. Another meeting, open to the public, will be held on March 13th.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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