Springfield, Ma., narcotics officers routinely violate people’s constitutional rights by using excessive force without accountability, the Justice Department said Wednesday, reports the Wall Street Journal. Narcotics 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 DOJ civil rights division in a report of a two-year probe. Justice Department officials found chronic problems with use of force, poor record keeping and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct, said Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. City officials cooperated with the probe and have already implemented remedial measures.
In the inquiry, known as a pattern-or-practice probe, the DOJ studied more than 114,000 documents detailing the department’s policies, procedures, internal reports, training manuals, video footage and investigative files. Such wide-ranging investigations were a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to overhaul troubled police departments, but the Trump administration has significantly curtailed their use, focusing instead on providing police with resources for fighting violent crime and other administration priorities. Democrats and at least one key Republican, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, have called on Attorney General William Barr to conduct more pattern-or-practice probes after the George Floyd killing. The inquiry into Springfield’s narcotics bureau, opened in April 2018 after its officers were involved in several highly publicized controversies, is the only pattern-or-practice investigation opened under the Trump administration. The Obama Justice Department launched more than 25 such probes, many of which ended in court-approved agreements giving DOJ oversight of the local agency.