A chart showing areas where an individual may be struck with a police baton.
Photo credit: Monadnock

SPRINGFIELD — The resident turnout and engagement at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting on March 13 demonstrated that the community has questions about how the Springfield Police Department operates, particularly regarding the use of force.

The Springfield Police Department has been undergoing changes in how use of force is handled after an investigation by the federal Department of Justice found a pattern of misconduct within the department in 2020. Since then, with the establishment of two entities — the Board of Police Commissioners and the Use of Force Committee — there has been confusion among residents as to their roles and that of the existing Internal Investigation Unit.

Capt. Brian Beliveau is the commander of the Police Department’s Settlement Agreement Implementation Unit, created to help usher in changes to the department. Working with the city’s Law Department, the unit has developed a training curriculum and will oversee yearly training. Police Department policies were “refreshed,” reviewed by third-party compliance evaluator O’Toole Associates and rolled out, Beliveau said. He also said the unit reports to the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission annually and is involved with community engagement.

Part of that engagement is improving an understanding of the police structures and terms, including use of force. Springfield Ward 8 City Councilor Zaida Govan said the definition of use of force is “very broad” and confusing to residents. She asked, “Who determines that? What is serious?”

What is use of force?

According to the state’s Code of Regulations, “a law enforcement officer shall not use force upon another person, unless de-escalation tactics have been attempted and failed or are not feasible … and such force is necessary and proportionate.” The law goes on to say force may be used to lawfully arrest or detain someone, prevent escape from custody, defend against force being used on an officer or “prevent imminent harm” to the officer and others.

Police are allowed by state law to sit, kneel or stand on an individual’s chest or spine, or force them to lie on their stomach to temporarily gain, regain or maintain control and apply restraint, as long as the person is moved to a recovery position as soon as possible. Sitting, kneeling or standing on someone’s neck or head, or otherwise restricting airflow, such as with a chokehold, is never allowed.

There are five levels of force as laid out by the Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee. The appropriateness of each level is based on the perceptions of the officer. Level 1 is in use when an individual is cooperative and can include dialogue, verbal commands and handcuffing without resistance.

Level 2 force includes an elbow grasp as a restraint technique and use of the escort and handcuffing control positions. Beliveau said “contactless force actions,” such as unholstering a firearm, whether or not it is pointed, is a level 2 use of force. This level is considered allowable for use if the individual fails to respond to any of the cooperative controls.

Level 3 includes hands-on restraint techniques, including wrist locks, finger grasps and “take down pressure points.” Baton restraints, the use of oleoresin capsicum munitions or aerosols, commonly known as “pepper spray,” and use of a Taser energy weapon directly against a person’s body are also included in level three. These are used if a person adopts a “posture of resistance” or the officer perceives the circumstances as “volatile.”

Used if the officer perceives that an individual is attacking them, use of force level 4 includes striking a person with head, hands, elbows, knees, feet, batons or other immediately available tools, deploying probes from a Taser energy weapon into a person’s skin, use of a “less lethal” ammunition shotgun or launcher. Using a hard object to strike a person’s head, neck, sternum, spine, groin or kidneys is prohibited at level 4.

If an officer perceives the threat of death or serious bodily harm, level 5 allows for deadly force with the use of department issued handgun or other authorized weapons. According to the MPTC, deadly force can only be used if all the following circumstances are present: all feasible de-escalation tactics have failed, deadly force is needed to prevent imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others and the level of force is “objectively reasonable.” The full regulations can be found at tinyurl.com/3mrav83p.

Multi-tiered structure

The Springfield Police Department addresses use of force through a multi-tiered structure. Beliveau explained that use of force is included in police reports.

“We’re reporting a lot more than we ever have in the past,” Beliveau said, in part because regulations at the state level have changed.

Force categorized as level 2 or 3 is selectively reviewed by the Use of Force Committee. All level 4 or 5 uses are reviewed. If the force is found to be appropriate, there is no further action. However, the incidents can be sent to the Internal Investigations Unit for further review. Beliveau said complaints are also reviewed by the Internal Investigations Unit and can then be reviewed by the Board of Police Commissioners.

Beliveau explained that the initial meeting of the Use of Force Committee was in April 2023, with a second meeting to review five incidents that summer. However, he said the compliance team and representative from the Department of Justice decided that the Use of Force Committee should wait to review further cases until the release of a manual codifying how incidents and complaints are handled. That manual was released on Feb. 28 and is undergoing a public comment period. The manual can be reviewed, and comments made at springfieldmapolice.com/policies.

“I think there’s too much bureaucracy. Now that we have a Board of Police Commissioners, they should get all the use of force complaints,” Govan said. She said the original intent was for the commissioners to handle all the hiring, firing, promotions and discipline. Rather than have potential disciplinary issues work their way up to the Board of Police Commissioners, she said they should start with the commissioners, who would decide whether to hand them over to be addressed administratively. She added, “It is a work in progress, but I feel like it could have been more linear.”


Beliveau said the data from 2023 shows that of the roughly 246,000 calls for police service in 2023, 313 resulted in use of force. “I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s lived experiences,” Beliveau said, but added, “0.12% of our interactions require force and half of those didn’t even require putting hands on them.” Level 2 force accounted for 245 of the incidents, with an additional 46 categorized as level 3. There were 17 incidents of level 4 force, and five times level 5 force was used.

Govan said that with 313 cases in a year, “That’s almost one a day. One use of force is too many.” However, she acknowledged that force is sometimes needed.

One of the projects Beliveau is excited about rolling out is an online data dashboard that will include information about police interactions with the community, charts to display data and trends and definitions of the various levels of use of force. Once live, the dashboard will be updated monthly. “My hope is to have it up in the next 30 days or so,” said Beliveau.

Beliveau reflected on the department’s efforts to provide information to the community. “There is zero reason to not be completely transparent and accountable. Communication is key. Everything we do as a society can be made better by an appropriate conversation.”

Govan acknowledged, “We’re doing a better job of putting things out for people to look at.”

When it comes to use of force, he said that between the new manual and new training, “There are a lot of moving pieces, but I think we’re making good progress.”

To file a complaint or leave a compliment for the department, visit tinyurl.com/52t4ds2y.