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A Foundation For Understanding Police Practices & Protocols

Making Sure What We Are Doing Reflects The Values of Our Community
by Connie Sartini
 
In her welcoming remarks, Groton Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian opened the July 20 virtual Forum, and explained that the Forum with the Select Board and the Groton Police Department was designed to “create a foundation of understanding of the current practices and protocols of the Police Department and to make sure that what we are doing reflects the values of our community.”
     “We are extremely fortunate in Groton to have the Police Department that we do and that they are valued and respected members of our community.” She stressed that when Chief Michael Luth was asked to participate in the forum, he responded that it sounded like a good idea to him. She then introduced members of the Police Department; Chief Michael Luth, Sergeant Rachael Mead, and Training and Certification Officer Gordon Candow.
     Select Board member and Moderator for the Forum Becky Pine echoed Manugian’s comments, adding, “Chief Luth was enthusiastic in his agreement” to participate in the Forum.
COMMUNITY POLICING
     Pine asked Chief Luth “what community policing means for Groton.” He explained that for the “Groton Police Department to be part of the community, we need to interact with all members of the community including children and seniors. 21st century policing is interacting with the community in non-policing roles to create lasting relationships.”
UNION MEMBERSHIP
     The next question asked if Groton was whether or not Groton was part of a state or national union. Training and Accreditation Officer Gordon Candow, the Union President, responded that Groton was not part of any larger union.
CERTIFICATION AND LICENSING
     Pine asked Chief Luth if he supported the certification and licensing of Police Officers as proposed by Gov. Baker. Luth responded, “I definitely support this. Certification gives Chiefs and managers the ability to move officers. Statewide this is beneficial.” He added, “The Governor collaborated with various groups, including the Black and Latino Caucuses. I am in support of this.”
     Officer Candow added, “No members had any problem with this. We are way ahead of the curve with the Massachusetts restrictions. This is an easy transition for police officers in Massachusetts.”
     Chief Luth advised, “The certification for Police Departments is labor intensive for policies, procedures and best practices. For Certification, the Department has to address 159 different components. Once that is done there is an assessment by the Commission, which must be passed, followed by the Commission conducting an overview of the Department. Then there are 325 standards required, including department operations, and physical plant. It is an exhaustive list but once we reach that level, we are comfortable we are operating on a nationally recommended level.
     Officer Candow said that part of the challenge is “to mold the policies to fit the community in size and structure. It’s labor
intensive. The policy is thousands of pages and once we are accredited, the team will come back to ensure
that the standards are followed.” 
     The The Chief added, “We have been working on this since January. Every department in the state is trying to get this accreditation.”
POLICIES, PRACTICES & USE OF FORCE
     Pine asked a question about the policies and practices and the use of force.
     Chief Luth advised that the Department had already developed these policies last winter. “We have 35-36-page policy and part of having policy is making sure that all your people know and understand it. Training is costly. If I bring all employees in for training that is all overtime.
     To minimize the overtime costs, Chief Luth said, “Officer Candow literally sat down with every single employee face-to-face and went over all 36 pages of policy and answered individuals’ questions.”
     Chief Luth added that when the policies are finalized, they will be available online at the Groton Police Department Website. “We want to make this as easy as possible,” he said.
     Training Officer Candow is a teacher of Use of Force at the Police Academy’s for recruits, full-time recruits and more senior officers. He has been an instructor for over decade, and a Municipal Police Training Council instructor for the state and the use of force program. Candow cited the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ program that addresses some concerns expressed by citizens, pointing out that this is what is taught for training at the state level and “what we have in our policy. Choke and strangle holds have never been taught in Massachusetts. It has only been talked about at the state level with regard to the level of lethalness. There is no training for this in the state.”
     Candow said that he works closely with the Middlesex Sheriff ’s Office to train the Police Department on the strategies for de-escalation, and practices this as part of the training.
     He said that interpersonal communication is the goal to mediate a situation. “It is important that a police officer has the ability to talk to people. Our Police Officers do a fine job of this.” 
WHAT IS 8 CAN'T WAIT?
1. Ban Choke-Holds and Strangle-Holds - 
Massachusetts has never taught or trained chokeholds. Chokeholds have only been acceptable in a deadly force situation.
2. Require De-Escalation - 
The primary function of police work is de-escalation. We have trained our officers to use communication and warnings to avoid any possible uses of force.
3. Require warning before shooting - 
Officers are trained to give warnings before both less-lethal force and lethal force are used unless the delay would, in fact, cause serious bodily injury or death to themselves or someone else.
4. Requires exhausting all alternatives before shooting - 
Officers are training that if time, cover, and distance are an option, they should use them in order to try to avoid a lethal force situation.
5. Duty to Intervene - 
Massachusetts has been teaching and following case law Comm. V. Adams (1993) which states that officers must intervene to stop an officer from using excessive force. If they fail to intervene, they will be subject to the same penalties as the officer who used excessive force.
6. Ban Shooting at motor vehicles - 
We train officers and policy states:
     a. Officers shall not discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or from inside a moving vehicle, except if all the following conditions are met:
          1. It is necessary for the police officer to defend themselves or others; 
          2. The occupants of the vehicle employing deadly force, which the officer reasonably perceives as an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to themselves or another;
          3. There is no substantial risk to the safety of other persons, including risks associated with motor vehicle accidents;
          4. Officers have not positioned themselves in such a way as to create a likelihood of being struck by an occupied vehicle (e.g., surrounding a vehicle at close proximity while dismounted);
          5. The officer is not firing strictly to disable the vehicle; and
          6. The circumstances provide a high probability of stopping or striking the intended target.
          7. Require use of force continuum: Massachusetts has trained officers with a use of force model that was created in 1991.
          8. Require comprehensive reporting: all uses of force and warnings of use of force require the officer to complete a use of force form and report which is reviewed by a supervisor and administration.
     Communities across Massachusetts are also adopting 8 Can’t Wait, including Boston, Somerville, and Arlington.
BODY AND VEHICLE CAMERAS
     Another question Pine asked was about body cameras and vehicle cameras. Chief Luth advised that the Police Department does not have any body cameras or vehicle cameras. He said, “I am a big proponent of these but the downside is the costs are high. Over the initial $100,000 purchase, all the data has to be saved on servers to store it in the cloud.
     The management of the data, the requests for discovery from attorneys that we would have to provide would eventually cause us to have to hire a Police Officer to do this work.” He added that cameras also go into private homes, and there is concern for the home owners privacy.
    NMLEC- Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council
     In a response to a question about NMLEC, Chief Luth said that the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NMLEC) is a shared resource for high- risk situations whereby “their SWAT team helps communities where there is a barricaded or active shooter or in a situation where there is a large group of protesters that would be beyond our resources, or a threat in one of our schools.” The Chief stressed that NMLEC will only be here at the request of the Chief.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS
     The question of the School Resource Officers (SRO) was addressed, and Sergeant Rachael Mead explained that this is an organized, robust program designed to develop a relationship among students and staff. In order to serve as a School Resource Officer, applicants must go through rigorous training, receive National Certification and be re-certified annually. Officer Omar Connor is the SRO for the High School, Lawrence Academy, and Groton School. Officer Peter Breslin is the SRO for the Middle School.
     Their duties include ensuring that the schools are safe and secure, supporting emotional health and mentoring students as positive role models. Chief Luth said, “The two SROs are stretched, but with things in the current state, we are blessed to have two.”
HIRING
     In the area of hiring, Chief Luth said that openings are posted and advertised on social media and in the print media. He noted that applicants need to live fairly close to Groton. Applicants go through a battery of interviews: for intelligence, empathy, communication skills, and a fit into the community. After three or four interviews, finalists are given a psychological exam. This is a very important part of the process and part of the whole package.
     Chief Luth said, “Groton usually hires from the ranks of part-time Reserve Officers. This gives us an opportunity to get a good look at a person. Once hired, they are required to attend the Police Academy for 22 weeks of intensive hours of field training in Groton, working with a Field Training Officer. It is intensive but worth it.”
     Responding to a question of how the community can support getting the best for Groton, Chief Luth said, “The Groton Police Department enjoys the confidence of the town because we are doing the right thing. People are supportive during the tough times. We receive emails and letters of support.” He encouraged residents to contact their State Senators and State Representatives asking them to get input from police departments before making decisions regarding police and “not doing it in a vacuum.”
CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
     Another question in the Forum asked about support for formating a Citizens Advisory Committee. Chief Luth said he would be concerned that there would be a panel of people that have never done police work. He likened it to The Board of Bar Overseers for lawyers, a panel made up of lawyers because they know the profession, or the Medical Review Board that is composed of doctors.
     Chief Luth talked about civilian oversight proposal at the state level, stressing that the Senate Bill was “created in a vacuum, with no stake holders involved. Qualified immunity protects officers to do the right thing. If you take this protection away from them, it will destroy our profession.” He added that “applications for the Groton Police Department are down and that there is a real challenge to get the great people already here to stay.”
     For residents wanting to learn about the details of police work, Sergeant Mead runs a Citizen’s Police Academy Training for residents, but “unfortunately no one signed up this year.” According to Sgt. Mead, the Citizen Academy is usually six weeks, one night a week, with each night covering a different topic. Some of the topics include: Investigations and Digital Investigations; School Resource Officers and Juvenile Diversion; Run Hide Fight; Accident Reconstruction; K9 Units – patrol, tracking, drug, and comfort dogs; Criminal law; Use of Force; Firearms; and Court Process. Instructors include officers who do these types of investigations locally, specialty units, and training officers, a clerk magistrate from Ayer District Court who comes to explain how the court process works, and a retired police officer and attorney to teach criminal law.
     In addition, Sgt. Mead talked about the Student Academy that is a week-long camp for middle school-aged students. "We cover some of the same topics but more age-appropriate. We also have the NEMLEC motorcycle unit and K-9 unit come in and do demonstrations, a s well as the State Police Helicopter. Students are taught how to march, have team building and leadership exercises, will be given a case to “solve” and are brought through the case from when they first are dispatched to it through a mock trial at Ayer District Court where they are able to talk with the local Judge about the court process and what happens at trial.” 
     Sgt. Mead said that anyone interested in more information about either Academy can contact her at the Police Department.
PROTOCOL FOR NON-WHITES IN A WHITE COMMUNITY
     Pine asked that in a white community, what is the protocol if you see a black or brown individual. Chief Luth responded that this distinction was illegal and “we have an equality policy. Unless there is a reason to make contact, Police would not do anything.” He added, “People do call about suspicious activity, not necessarily if they see a person of color. If people see something out of place, they call us. If there is suspicious activity, we are required to respond to the call, but not if the only thing suspicious is the color of skin.”
     Luth added that policy directives for the dispatchers now requires them to get more information about the suspicious person.
     Pine said, “I applaud your policy revision for people of color.” Luth replied, “We have to make policy that suits our community. I am open to look at all of these.”
BIAS TRAINING
     Pine then asked about training for unconscious bias.
     Chief Luth said that this training is conducted by Sgt. Mead and addresses bias, autism, and mental health. “We are lucky to have Sgt. Mead as a trainer so it is easier for us to stay fresh.” He added that she will be conducting training for town employees in this area as well.
     Sgt. Mead advised that in bias training, “there are two types, implicit and explicit. How do we change to no bias? This is a one- hour long training that discusses racial, sexual orientation, and gender bias, and I am excited to bring this to the employees at Town Hall.”
COIN – Community Outreach Initiative Network
     Chief Luth said, “We are required to do a lot of things, things that don’t happen during business
having a lot of problems, we get the call. We are not mental health or substance abuse counselors, so we are a member of Community Outreach Initiative Network (COIN). This is a network that includes 10 area towns. COIN brings together stakeholders to identify regional resources ahead of Crisis Intervention Team Development. Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) a regional program that can serve as a direct resource for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
     “CIT programs are community-based partnerships that incorporate law enforcement, mental health professionals and consumer and advocacy groups whose combined expertise can provide those in need with lifesaving recovery and rehabilitation resources.
     The CIT framework also aims to greatly reduce the number of arrests or other adverse interactions between police and individuals with mental illness by referring them to treatment or other support services.”
     The Chief added that he is working with the Chiefs of Pepperell and Ashby to address domestic abuse as part of this program.
POLICE EQUIPMENT UNIFORM
     Chairman Manugian asked why police officers go to every call with guns and could they be differently equipped?
Chief Luth responded this is part of the equipped uniform. “Bad things happen in good places. Officers in our department have been assaulted, some out of work as a result. Police officers have died in small towns. We have to be prepared all the time.” He stressed that there are other tools like pepper spray and batons, but “we need the ability to take violent offenders into custody. These tools are effective and there would be unintended consequences when these tools are taken away.”
CLOSING COMMENTS
     Pine asked, “What would you like the Select Board to do and what can we do to support you?
     Chief Luth stressed that “the Select Board has been very supportive of us,” adding, “If the community wants more information on what we are trying to do, ask us. Send us a question.” He added that there are two critical open slots in the Department right now that need to be filled, that of the Deputy Chief and a Sergeant position.
     Chief Luth told the Board,”As the Chief in Groton, I couldn’t be more proud of our dispatchers and our officers. We are blessed that they are here.”
     Officer Candow stressed that he is passionate about training and wants citizens to know how well-trained they are. “We have very competent police officers.” If anyone has questions or wants to know more about the Police Department, he urged them to reach out to him.
     Select Board member and Forum moderator Becky Pine thanked the participants for their enthusiasm. “This is important for Groton. We have a superb Police Department and this is a huge gift.”
     Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian gave the Police Department “accolades and appreciation for coming in. You are a tremendous asset to the town.”
     Town Manager Mark Haddad, reached following the Forum, advised that there were 67 attendees on ZOOM at the height of the Forum and amazingly there were 57 at the end of the two-hour session. Haddad said, “The public got to see what I see every day. We truly have a dedicated Police Force, led by an outstanding Chief.”
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