Mass. PD rolls out policy changes; altering pursuit rules and formalizing training program

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By Jeanette DeForge

The Republican, Springfield, Mass.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The police department is starting a formalized field training program for just-out-of-the-academy officers and has improved its software system so it is easier to track complaints and discretions filed against all law enforcement.

“Under the new policy, field training officers will be assigned with a recruit for 12 weeks,” Police Superintendent Cheryl C. Clapprood said. “It is desperately needed because the department is getting younger and younger.”

Clapprood met on Thursday with the City Council to talk about the progress the department is making under the consent decree that was agreed upon with the U.S. attorney in April 2022. The agreement, which gives the Department of Justice a measure of control over police, was created in response to a 2020 federal report portraying the former Narcotics Unit as unnecessarily using excessive force and multiple other problems.

For the past year or so, the council has been meeting with Clapprood and a member of the Board of Police Commissioners every few months to receive updates on progress and changes made under the agreement, said City Council President Jesse Lederman.

The department also appears before a federal judge quarterly to report changes being made under the agreement, Clapprood said.

In the past, the department has always had an informal training program where new officers teamed up with their experienced colleagues so they learn the ins and outs of policing while on the streets. But now senior officers are retiring earlier so often recruits may be working with people who have just a few years on the job, Clapprood said.

Under the program officers who have at least three years of experience, no disciplinary issues and who are identified as good role models will be recruited and trained on how to teach the new officers. They will be teamed up with the same recruit for three months, write daily reports and if they detect deficiencies the new officer will receive some retraining in a specific skill, she said.

It is difficult to recruit new officers and Clapprood said she doesn’t want to lose any new ones because they feel overwhelmed. At the same time, the program will also help identify people who cannot be retrained and really shouldn’t remain on the force.

The department also has five new policies including ones for use of force and vehicle pursuits.

She then warned the City Council that she may be returning to them early next year to ask for additional money in her overtime budget. Since there is no line item for training, when officers are taking classes there are not enough people to run without them so she backfills with overtime.

“The best police officer is a well-trained police officer,” she said. “I don’t want to skimp on training. I want to make sure everyone understands the new policies.”

In addition to the new policies, Clapprood said the department has upgraded software to better keep records and identify problems early with any officers.

For example, if an officer is involved in three cruiser accidents, the software flags it and supervisors will look at the reports to find out if any action should be taken.

“If someone has three rudeness complaints, that system will tell us. If you have one or two, OK, but if you have three you might have a problem,” she said.

A second program also keeps all reports of use of force incidents in the same place and attaches all relevant information such as the video from body-worn cameras. In the past reports were filed in different places depending on if the officer used mace or a nightstick or their gun, she said.

Albert Tranghese, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, also reported that after a bumpy start the committee is now equipped with computers and cell phones that will allow them to receive complaints and better reach out to the community.

The board could still use an administrative assistant but officials are working on providing the help they need, Tranghese said.

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(c)2023 The Republican, Springfield, Mass.

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