DOJ Report: Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau Relied on Excessive Use of Force
That’s according to a report by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Massachusetts District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (“USAO”) published July 8, 2020.
The NB in Springfield is a small plainclothes department of 29 when fully staffed and covers the state’s third largest city. It came under public scrutiny after several use of force incidents, culminating in a report of abuse by a sergeant on two juveniles under arrest in 2016.
On April 13, 2018, the DOJ and the USAO began their investigation, reviewing over 114,000 pages of documents, interviewing NB and SPD staff and officials, and speaking with community members and victims. Their conclusion: The narcotics team engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force violating the public’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“Specifically, our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries,” said the report from the offices of U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as cited by masslive.com.
The investigation was the first of its kind under the Trump Administration. Ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that such investigations were unfair, maligned police departments and forced municipalities to enter into unlawful court-ordered consent decrees. Current Attorney General William Barr said the DOJ would support law enforcement but hold departments that violated the public’s trust accountable.
The DOJ report said systemic deficiencies helped to support narcotics team actions. Department policy did not require officers to report “hands on” uses of force such as punches or kicks. Injury reports were incomplete and often vague. Bureau supervisors did not have a comprehensive policy governing the review of incidents.
Because of these policies, there was not one sustained excessive use of force decision against the NB in six years, the report said.
Several recommendations were made: report all use of force incidents and instruct supervisors in the proper review of such reports; adopt new use of force training, avoiding damaging strikes to the head and neck area; revise policies and training to give proper credence to civilian complaints; and adopt additional procedures that will add accountability to police actions.
Lelling stated the SPD and the city “have fully cooperated with this investigation and have made clear their commitment to genuine reform.”