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DOJ report says Springfield narcotics officers have a pattern of using excessive force

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Springfield police narcotics officers have a pattern of using excessive force that includes needlessly escalating encounters with civilians and then punching members of the public in the face, according to a report from federal investigators released Wednesday night.

The report, the result of a two-year investigation by the US Justice Department and the US attorney’s office for Massachusetts, says there is “reasonable cause to believe that Narcotics Bureau officers engage in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Officers are too quick to throw punches and sometimes “resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries,” according to the report, which attributes the pattern to “systemic deficiencies in policies, accountability systems, and training.”

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The department doesn’t require officers to report “hands on” uses of force, as most police departments do, which allows officers to avoid reporting physical interactions with civilians or to submit imprecise, misleading reports. Some narcotics officers also falsified reports, and supervisors failed to effectively review the incidents that were reported, according to investigators.

Representatives for the Police Department and the Springfield Police Patrolmen’s Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.


In a statement, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said he had just received the report and he “will be reviewing this document tomorrow with Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood and City Solicitor Attorney Ed Pikula and we will be conducting a press briefing ASAP.”

Andrew E. Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts, said in a separate statement that the investigation “revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct.”

Lelling added that police and city officials had cooperated with the investigation and were committed to “genuine reform.”

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The report says the department’s system for preventing officers from using unlawful force and investigating such incidents is broken.

It calls for better reporting of encounters where officers use force, new training on the use of force, improvements to the internal investigation system, and greater accountability in the discipline system for officers.

Investigators reviewed video recordings and more than 100,000 pages of written documents, and the interviewed Springfield officers, supervisors, and command staff, as well as city officials, community members, and activists to compile the report, officials said.

US Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that police officers have “the toughest job in America” but also “a tremendous responsibility to uphold the public trust.”

Barr pledge that the Justice Department would work with Springfield officials “to ensure that the police officers and people of Springfield get the law enforcement agency they deserve, one that effectively and constitutionally stops violent crime and narcotics trafficking.”

Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.