The newly invigorated national discussion on the role of police and the promotion of equitable treatment for all regardless of their skin color has important lessons for every community, large or small. I am a firm believer in the value of reflection and civil discourse to ensure all our public institutions and services are truly the best that they can be. Understandably, the current focus is on police departments, but many other segments of public life could benefit from examination.
Bringing fresh thinking and possible new approaches to fostering community harmony is a positive step. And for us here in Manchester with a strong public safety foundation in place, moving forward will not be as difficult as in other communities. Some of the changes being advocated by the Black Lives Matter movement and others are already in place within our police department. We have excellent police professionals on staff who are committed to working with community members in developing further changes as needed.
Our strong foundation begins with being a fully accredited department through the rigorous program of the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. Only 28% of all police departments in the state have achieved this high professional standard. The standards cover a wide range of police procedures from handling evidence to use of force protocols, from reporting standards to minimum annual training standards. These training standards are on top of the requirement that all full-time officers complete the 24-week intensive state-run Police Academy training program before being sworn in. The accreditation process is on-going – if a department does not maintain the standards, which are frequently updated (for example, use of force), then accreditation is lost.
One important aspect of the accreditation standards is the requirement that all complaints about an officer are investigated. Our internal affairs procedures include the option of using third-party investigators to determine wrong-doing and prescribe corrective action.
During the Obama Administration, the Presidential Task Force on 21st-Century Policing issued its comprehensive report detailing six pillars of success for police departments. The report remains on point to today’s debate on best practices for police. The MPD has incorporated the six pillars into their operations with specific tasks aimed at each: Building Community Trust; Clear Policies and Oversight; The use of Technology and Social Media; Fostering Community Policing (resident engagement and interaction); On-going training & Education; and Officer Wellness & Safety.
Another recent initiative by Chief Fitzgerald is the One Mind Campaign. This program, developed by the International Chiefs of Police Association, creates a partnership between the police and mental health professionals. About a fifth of all calls for police assistance involve mental health issues. Todd has created a new team approach with Lahey Behavioral Health in Beverly to better respond to calls involving mental health concerns. Similarly, we have a new Overdose Outreach Follow-up Team that Sergeant Stephen Louf is heading up in conjunction with Chief Francis in Essex.
This past year, our Police Department teamed up with the School District to provide a dedicated School Resource Officer. Patrolperson Andrea Locke was assigned to this new, important role and, while COVID shortened her time in the schools this past year, she has made excellent progress in connecting with young people in town and continues to do so through virtual activities.
These important aspects of our current operations provide a strong foundation on which to build comprehensive community safety services that are fair, transparent, impartial and compassionate. I know that the Chief, the Selectmen and I welcome ideas from residents on how best to make our services and operations even better whether within or alongside our Police Department.