SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Police Department wishes to report to the public on a number of improvements that have been made to policies, systems and training programs in the past year that aim to strengthen accountability department-wide and improve community relations and public safety in Springfield.
The department has developed a new use-of-force policy that adjusts language regarding training recruits and completing in-service training. Though the department does not teach chokeholds, the new policy strictly regulates any use of a chokehold. Additionally, the policy requires officers to attempt to de-escalate any situation unless it is unfeasible and includes a duty to intervene. The department has also implemented an additional step in the process of reviewing cases of possible excessive force by having training academy staff review and make recommendations in regard to the force applied.
The updated use-of-force policy has been approved by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The policy may require additional updates in the coming months in accordance with the new reform bill measures and the standards and requirements placed on all departments by the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC).
A new Internal Investigations Unit (IIU) policy is currently being adopted which takes into account industry and legal guidance. The department has also implemented training for IIU officers on properly conducting internal investigations.
Both the use-of-force and IIU policies are pending final approval from the law department and other governing agencies before implementation.
“Policies that are in line with the highest professional standards outline expectations and guide better decision making,” Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said. “Our updated use-of-force and internal investigation policies are in line with industry best practices, and we will continue to evaluate these and other policies as we move through the state certification process and receive guidance on the Massachusetts police reform legislation.”
The IIU has additionally been relocated to the department’s new training facility on Page Boulevard, which is a more central location in the city with better parking for citizens. An online form for individuals to submit compliments or complaints about officers has also been instituted. Furthermore, department leadership has researched early warning intervention software for officer complaints and visited another police department that uses such a system. Through use-of-force reporting and data tracking, these systems are designed to identify officers whose conduct may be troublesome and allow the department to intervene to correct this conduct early on. Springfield hopes to implement this type of software as well.
The department is also currently in the Request for Proposal stage of the process to obtain a new Records Management System that will alleviate many reporting issues by incorporating all reports linked to an arrest or offense so they are easily trackable. The department is also increasing the reporting standard for any injuries to a suspect and requiring access to body-worn camera footage with those encounters.
A significant achievement in the past year is the department’s implementation of a Body-Worn Camera program. Today, all sworn officers and supervisors in the department, just under 500, wear BWCs while on duty. As of July 6, 16,563 total hours of video had been captured since the first 12 Springfield Police officers and supervisors were outfitted with body-worn cameras in June 2020. Along with the program, Commissioner Clapprood created an internal audit unit that reviews body-worn camera footage, ensuring that officers are adhering to the department’s policies.
“I believe many steps have been taken in the past year-plus that improve the accountability of our officers and department as a whole. I have terminated seven officers, suspended several officers for 30 days and another resigned prior to their disciplinary hearing,” Commissioner Clapprood said. “Our body-worn camera program has proven to be a huge success in its first year and will continue to provide transparency into the day-to-day work of our officers. Improving the process for citizens to provide us with feedback and ensuring any complaints are thoroughly and properly investigated are also important steps to increase the accountability measures we have in place.”
Many changes will also occur within the department with the Massachusetts Police Reform legislation having become effective on July 1. In response to the legislation, the department has expedited in-service training to ensure each of the department’s nearly 500 sworn officers will be eligible to obtain their initial certification once required. School resource officers will also require special training and certification through the bill. The majority of the department’s SROs have received this specialized training and the department aims to have all of the officers in the unit trained before the end of the summer, well ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline.
Additionally, every officer has completed EPIC (Ethical Policing is Courageous) training, a peer intervention training program that advocates for active bystandership and aims to prevent mistakes or misconduct by training officers to intervene. Every officer has also completed Implicit Bias training and this training is included in the academy for all new Springfield Police officers and for current officers biennially. The department has expanded its partnership with the Behavioral Health Network (BHN) and now works with five BHN clinicians and one supervisor who co-respond with officers to mental health calls.
Springfield Police sergeants will also be attending professional development training through American International College during the summer which will educate them on progressive discipline, leadership and supervision. This training had been scheduled in 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The department’s lieutenants will also complete training in the fall.
The Springfield Police Training Facility on Page Boulevard was opened at the end of 2020. The facility allows for realistic tactical and situational training and includes additional classroom space. The department also continues to invest in upgraded Tasers, tools that can greatly reduce injuries to suspects and allow officers to gain compliance with little to no lasting effects.
“The Springfield Police Department is young, diverse and well-trained, and I am proud that of the average 268,000 calls for service over the past three years, less than 1% have resulted in a citizen complaint or use-of-force complaint,” Commissioner Clapprood said. “Good, continuous training is one of the most important factors in the success and well-being of an officer. These varied training initiatives and partnerships coupled with the realistic training that takes place in our new training facility, ensure our officers have the tools and resources they need to practice and improve their skills, allowing them to respond to many different situations and do their jobs to the best of their ability.”
The Springfield Police Department is also in the process of receiving its first State Certification by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission (MPAC). Certification is a self-initiated, voluntary evaluation process by which police departments strive to meet and maintain the highest standards of law enforcement, and is considered the best measure of a police department adhering to established best practices around the country and region. The certification process is long and rigorous, involving both an internal self-review and an external assessment by MPAC’s team of subject matter experts.
Springfield is currently in the Self-Assessment Phase of the certification process, during which the department is internally evaluating its policies and procedures in order to make any necessary changes to meet the criteria for certification. It is expected that the department will be in the mock assessment phased by the fall of 2021. Approximately 100 department policies are under review.
An onsite assessment for MPAC certification will be scheduled following the Self-Assessment Phase. The MPAC program requires that departments meet 159 mandatory standards to attain certification, including maintaining up to date policies around Jurisdiction and Mutual Aid, Collection and Preservation of Evidence, Communications, Working Conditions, Crime Analysis, Community Involvement, Financial Management, Internal Affairs, Juvenile Operations, Patrol Administration, Public Information, Records, Traffic, Training, Drug Enforcement and Victim/Witness Assistance. The department’s goal is to receive State Certification by September 2022.
“I commend Commissioner Clapprood, her leadership team, and the brave and dedicated men and women of the Springfield Police Department for their unyielding and honorable service to our community day in and day out,” Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said. “Since becoming the Commissioner of the Springfield Police Department, Commissioner Clapprood has provided sound and good leadership by implementing numerous reforms and initiatives aimed at improving our policing strategies and improving police/community relations.”
He added, “From implementing the Body-Worn Camera program, developing the new use-of-force policy, utilizing new technology to improve public safety, emphasizing training and professional development services so that our officers have the best tools and programs available, and keeping our core SPD units operating such as our beloved C3 and Ordinance Flex Squad – together these are just some of the measures and initiatives we have undertaken to keep our neighborhoods safe and to protect and serve our residents and business community. There is still much more work to do but Commissioner Clapprood and I are looking forward to continuing to build off of these improvements for the betterment of all.”