By Stephanie Barry
SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins and civil rights watchdogs announced an unprecedented court settlement with the city, trained on revamping use-of-force and reporting policies within the police force.
The consent decree offers the Department of Justice a measure of control over the Springfield Police Department.
The announcement follows a year of negotiations and comes nearly two years after the Justice Department issued a blistering 28-page report portraying the police department’s former Narcotics Unit as heavy-handed during arrests, among other failings.
Rollins and her colleagues from Washington D.C. announced the agreement at the federal courthouse on State Street Wednesday morning after the city inked the settlement. A federal judge will sign off on it.
The consent decree will tightly control any use of force police employed by officers during an arrest beyond “unresisted handcuffing,” require strict reporting protocols and greater transparency.
The settlement will also require that the city hire an “independent compliance evaluator,” according to the lengthy document released Wednesday morning.
The agreement will cease once the city exhibits “substantial compliance” for a period of two years.
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and police superintendent Cheryl C. Clapprood were on hand for the announcement.
The consent decree is a result of a “patterns and practices” investigation by federal prosecutors — the only one of its kind launched under former President Donald J. Trump, and the first to yield a settlement under the Biden administration.
The DOJ report, issued in July 2020, concluded that the Narcotics Bureau engaged in excessive use of force as a pattern, violating civilians’ constitutional rights.
“Specifically, our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and result in unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries,” the report stated.
The report detailed a litany of examples using subjects’ initials, adding that between 2013 to 2018, command staff did not make a single excessive force referral to the Internal Investigations Unit involving the narcotics unit. The analysis also was critical of past investigations by internal affairs, concluding they lacked “critical content.”
“This has resulted in zero sustained findings of excessive force against any Narcotics Bureau officer in the last six years,” the report stated. “Against this backdrop, Narcotics Bureau officers engage in uses of excessive force without accountability.”
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