A half-century later, Springfield, Mass. released from consent decree governing police and fire hiring

Officers at a police graduation ceremony on June 16, 2022, with Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood (right) looking on. (City of Springfield, Mass. / Facebook)

A federal judge has released Springfield from a consent decree regulating the hiring of police officers. The rules, which until last month also applied to the city’s fire department, have been in place nearly 50 years.

The consent decree was meant to prioritize Black and Latino candidates for entry-level police and fire positions, so the departments would better reflect the communities they serve.

Now Judge Patti Saris has found Springfield has essentially met this goal.

The fire department’s entry-level workforce was 60.8% Black or Latino as of the end of last year, with a court-ordered parity target of 61.3%, according to court documents.

As for the police department, 50.9% of eligible positions were held by Black or Latino officers. That was just under the parity target of 53.8%, but Springfield officials said a new cadet class that graduated in June pushed its numbers past the threshold.

“Being removed from this consent decree is not going to impact the inclusivity of our hiring process; the recent trends show that our diversity levels will only grow stronger,” Springfield Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood said in a statement.

The percentages of supervisors of color remain well below the entry-level positions, although Mayor Domenic Sarno has noted the city is making progress.

Judge Saris also released Worcester’s police department from the consent decree, and tentatively released police departments in Chelsea and Lawrence at the end of the year.

After that, the consent decree would apply in just four Massachusetts departments — Chelsea fire, Lawrence fire, Holyoke fire and police, and Randolph police. State human resources officials had asked the judge to terminate the hiring rules statewide by the end of 2024 regardless of whether those departments reflect local demographics.

Saris stopped short of that in her recent order.

The release of the Springfield Police Department from the court-ordered hiring rules does not impact a separate consent decree announced in April. The agreement imposes criminal justice reforms on Springfield following a U.S. Department of Justice report accusing a now-disbanded police unit of using excessive violence with impunity.

This story was originally published by New England Public Media, a partner of the New England News Collaborative.