Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno on Thursday said the findings of a federal investigation into alleged police brutality in his city were “disturbing and disappointing,” and promised to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice to make improvements.
“No one is above the law, including police officers,” said Sarno at a press conference, accompanied by Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood.
The press conference was held a day after the DOJ released a 28-page report finding reasonable cause to find the city’s Narcotics Bureau officers “engage in a pattern or practice of using excessive force,” including punching people in the face and resorting to “unreasonable takedown maneuvers” that could cause head injuries.
The report found the alleged actions were in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from excessive force by law enforcement. And the report found alleged problems are “directly attributable to systemic deficiencies in policies, which fail to require detailed and consistent use-of-force reporting, and accountability systems that do not provide meaningful reviews of uses of force.”
Clapprood, who said she received the investigation Wednesday, said the department has already started to implement some of the changes recommended in the report, including improving training, updating policies and procedures and fixing a faulty records management system. She also said the department has purchased 511 body cameras to provide to police officers on the street.
“Especially as a result of this report, I want the plainclothes officers and narcotics officers to wear the body-worn cameras,’’ she said. “It'll be a transparency tool for us. And it'll also, I feel, protect the officers from unwarranted claims.”
Clapprood said she was surprised to see that the federal report mention only “fists and takedowns,’’ and not lethal or non-lethal weapons. She said she didn’t think the department has ever had a policy focusing on whether “hands on” interactions would be considered excessive force and should be reported.
“If that's the way that law enforcement's going and that's the standards they want us to meet,” she said, “then that's the change we'll make.”
Clapprood has been a focus of concern in Springfield among some critics, including a recentpetition to remove her from office amidst calls for police accountability. Clapprood couldn’t be immediately reached for comment but told WWLP that the petition is “loaded with lies.”
City Council President Justin Hurst told WGBH News on Thursday that he hasn’t signed the petition, but hopes to work with the Council to give Clapprood a vote of no confidence.
He released a statement saying he has long been concerned about excessive force among local police.
“These systems that contribute to this brazen culture of policing are perpetuated by the actions and inactions of those in the highest levels of leadership in the police department and extend to those who are responsible for appointing them,’’ he said. “The culture within our police department that residents so desperately want to see reformed will never occur as long as those responsible with trying to reform it are products of that same culture.”