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Lexington Police Officers rarely use firearms in the course of their duties. This is why it is very important that we train extensively. As any risk manager will advise, if an employee has a "high risk" function that is infrequently used, training is imperative to ensure high levels of proficiency.
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Specifically, does town or State social services accompany the police?
Yes, we have a protocol.
The Police Department has assigned a full-time Detective to Family Services. He immediately follows up on domestic matters, runaways, suicides/attempts and at-risk persons (elder and mental health matters). He works closely with Lexington's Human Services Department and the Community Crisis Intervention Team. He may enlist the assistance of the School Resource Officer who communicates with School deans and counselors.
We also have the Advocates located in Waltham who can respond to emergency calls for emotional and mental health emergencies. We are a member of the Domestic Violence Service Network (DVSN) and the Central Middlesex Police Partnership (CMPP) who contracts with Eliot Community services for social workers.
Given the example of 'child' abuse, we would immediately notify the Department of Children and Families as a mandatory reporter. They will come to a scene if the circumstances require.
The Massachusetts courts are the strictest in the country, limiting police authority on motor vehicle stops and threshold inquiries. Our policies require a police officer to articulate reasonable grounds to make a lawful motor vehicle stop. An officer cannot stop a motorist on "a hunch".A traffic law violation is reasonable grounds for a stop. Otherwise, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has, is, or is about to be committed to engage in a threshold inquiry.
Our policies are written so as to align with the law and our traffic enforcement policies posted on our website.
Officers receive training in the police academy during their law programs, as well as during practical hands-on procedures. While on the job, further training comes during in-service training and through professional associations. Supervisors also routinely debrief after motor vehicle stops to discuss why they made the stop, and why they may have issued criminal or civil charges through a citation.
Our policy requires the intake of any formal complaint, including anonymous complaints, and then the preliminary information is forwarded to the Chief of Police. A command staff officer, depending on the nature of the complaint, is then assigned to investigate and report back to the Chief.
The Police Department falls under the Town Manager, and the Town Manager, Deputy Town Manager and, to some extent, the Select Board are informed of any significant issues that take place in Lexington and any significant complaints.
The Family Services Detective notifies the Domestic Violence Service Network which provides advocacy, counseling, and training to families/individuals with domestic issues. Officers are also trained to assess 'high risk' domestic service calls to provide immediate emergency services to a victim.
Domestic disputes are one of the more dangerous calls that police departments respond to. Police officers are specifically trained to deal with the potential violent situation brought on by the emotional aspects of domestic disputes, and we are often called upon to stabilize and de-escalate a situation before EMS personnel or a social worker approaches the scene.
The Police Department logs between 13,000 to 15,000 calls or services each year. In 2019, we had 135 domestic-related calls and 21 alcohol / drug related. In total, these calls are a very small percentage (1%) of "police calls" in Lexington.
The Commonwealth's public records law currently prohibits the Police Department from discussing calls with medical and mental health issues. The law also seeks to protect the privacy of victims of certain crimes such as domestic assaults and sexual assaults. We also cannot discuss personnel files.
Each week, the Chief gives an update to the Town Manager and Deputy Town Manager on all calls that have taken place in Lexington. They are also contacted immediately when there is a serious incident and are given updates on any investigation. We also work closely with the Human Resource Director on personnel matters.
These are three of many departments in Lexington. We work closely together providing a Community Crisis Intervention Team to review individuals or families that need assistance. Our Family Services Detective, Community Resource Detective and School Resource Officer also make routine notifications to other departments so the public is properly served.
We also work closely with the Library, Schools, Recreation, DPW, and Facilities Departments, who serve as additional sets of eyes in the community. They often become aware of a person or family displaying behavior that may require intervention. Our ability to communicate with public and private entities is an important service to the community.
All of our policies are on our website. Use of lethal force is not a common practice. We place a high value on transparency, and we welcome the public’s input on our policies.
The first day officers exit the police academy, they are presented with Department policies. These are reviewed regularly, and when updates are issued, officers are notified electronically of the changes and are required to take quizzes. Department rules require that officers remain familiar with Department policies, and when policy violations occur, officers are held accountable. As an accredited police agency, we are re-accredited every three years by independent, external inspectors and we must document/demonstrate that our policies are being followed to retain our accreditation.
We assign a Lieutenant to every shift whose responsibility it is to listen to dispatched calls, monitor Department operations, read and inspect all reports and citations, and document employee performance. We also have a Patrol Sergeant assigned to each shift that provides supervision on the road.
We have marked and unmarked cruisers. We have one "undercover" vehicle. We use a "mixed fleet" approach with both sedans and SUVs. This gives us greater flexibility in poor weather and the SUVs carry more equipment. All unmarked vehicles are fully equipped with emergency lights (low profile) and sirens. Most unmarked vehicles are for administrative staff and serve as our backup to the marked fleet. For example, we had a mutual aid call to Woburn where an officer was shot, all of our marked vehicles went to Woburn to assist. Other officers were then able to use our unmarked fleet to patrol Lexington.
There are some competing interests when it comes to marked vs. unmarked vehicles. There is a growing expectation that police vehicles should be low profile so we do not "embarrass" or cause alarm at certain types of calls. This is completely opposite to the importance of being highly visible for traffic enforcement and as a deterrent to crime.
Lexington Police Officers qualify with handguns to a distance of 45 feet. Our officers deploy patrol rifles for instances where they encounter a person who is more than 45 feet away. As a suburban community, it is a very real challenge to approach an armed subject when there are no trees, stone walls or other protection to hide behind. With today's modern weapons, a bullet can be fired by a criminal will go straight through a police cruiser.
Our officers do not have body cameras, nor do we use cruiser cameras. One reason is the volume of information that would need to be maintained as a public record, and video takes up a lot of space on servers and maintaining this information is difficult in all but the largest departments.
Always assume you are on camera and being recorded. Many residents, businesses, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians use today's modern technology to film and record everything around them.
Police officers are trained and reminded daily that anything they say or do will probably be caught on camera. The Courts here in the Commonwealth have ruled that police officers, while in the performance of their duties, do not have a right of privacy.
Chief Mark Corr has no objection to a body camera program, provided it is properly funded. This is a discussion we can continue to have as we begin working on the next budget cycle. There will need to be discussions with the labor unions, but the biggest hurdle will be the cost of equipment, the cost of storing video, and, the most challenging part, the cost of personnel to manage video and public information requests. In 2019, the Police Department had 459 public record requests; should any significant percentage of these requests require body camera video, we will need more full time assistance managing the requests for information.
By way of example, a person may ask for the body camera video for one-year of an officer's motor vehicle stops possibly alleging bias. Since an officer may make a motor vehicle stop without documenting it, we would need to review all patrol video for that officer to identify the motor vehicle stops. Each officer is scheduled for 243 work days (less days off; add overtime) which is equivalent to 1,946 scheduled hours. Someone would need to review the video and then redact video of license plates, images of people or other confidential information. This same reviewer would need to redact from the audio all confidential information. The redactions may not be similar given that audio may be permitted where video is not, or vice versa. A single request could take someone a month or more to honor.
The School Resource Officer (SRO) is an effective assignment particularly given the emphasis on "resource." Consistent with the 2018 juvenile justice reform legislation passed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Police Department maintains a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Lexington Public Schools and the Minuteman Technical Vocational High School governing how an SRO will be used in the school.
We have, since the inception of the SRO program, avoided enforcement and most school attendance issues within the schools. The Police Department will continue to work with the School Department and the community to identify the best model for police officers working on school campuses.
Lexington Police officers are not rewarded for the number of tickets they write. Lexington does not have a "quota" system. We have, since the tenure of Chief Furdon (1982 to 1992), deemphasized arrest in favor of court diversion programs and court summons. We regularly use the Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) program. Officers are recognized when they use good judgement, de-escalated potentially dangerous situations and when acknowledged by the public for good police service.