Springfield city councilors call for U.S. Department of Justice to issue consent decree to force police department reforms

Springfield city councilors call for U.S. Department of Justice to issue consent decree to force police department reforms

SPRINGFIELD — A group of current and former city councilors sent a letter Tuesday urging the U.S. Department of Justice to mandate reforms in the city’s police department in the wake of a report by the agency alleging a pattern of excessive force and misconduct by narcotics officers.

The letter called for the Department of Justice issue a consent decree to make recommendations from the July 2020 report binding.

“While we appreciate the thorough investigation undertaken by your office to reveal a pattern or practice of excessive force by the Police Department and are in complete support of your recommendations for increased accountability and training, we are not convinced that this can be achieved with fidelity and a sense of urgency unless there is substantial oversight from your department,” the councilors wrote.

The letter was signed by councilors Justin Hurst, Malo Brown, Tracye Whitfield and Orlando Ramos, who is also the state representative in the 9th Hampden District. State Sen. Adam Gomez, who resigned from his seat on the council Tuesday morning to focus on his efforts in the Legislature, also signed the letter.

The DOJ probe of the police department’s narcotics bureau was summarized in a report that said the unit “engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force.”

The letter from the councilors follows a similar push for a consent decree by the Pioneer Valley Project, a Springfield-based community organizing group, and the Greater Springfield NAACP.

The councilors said that during the past 15 years, the city “has shelled out millions in police misconduct lawsuits and the longer it takes for the Police Department to implement the Department of Justice recommendations, the more it will cost our taxpayers.”

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Police Commissioner Cheryl C. Clapprood have defended their efforts to respond to the findings and recommendations of the Department of Justice. The city hired retired chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court Roderick Ireland, at an annual rate of $75,000, as a special counsel to the mayor to help usher in reforms and improve community relations with the police department.

The councilors said they are not confident true reform will be accomplished without the DOJ’s intervention.

“As a result of the Springfield Police Department’s checkered history coupled with an unnerving level of complicity from our current administration to allow injustices to occur to many of our residents at the hands of the police department with little to no accountability, we feel that true reform cannot be accomplished by leaving our Mayor and Police Commissioner to police themselves,” the letter said.

The councilors said a 1975 consent decree sought to diversify the department by requiring the city to hire one minority police officer for every non-minority hired. That mandate is still in place, and has had “tremendous results over the years and has been extremely effective in diversifying our Police Department,” the councilors said.

This article will be updated as reporting continues.

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Published at Tue, 02 Feb 2021 10:13:00 +0000

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