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This is an important of this question and any brief answer will be inadequate. There will need to be more discussion in other forums. In the past 10-years, Lexington has made significant steps toward change at the Police Department:
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Stress in policing is intense, and all managers must be attentive to the effects of stress. We have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with services available to all employees, and the police profession has a network of stress councilors. We frequently debrief with our officers about current events and troubling calls. We also limit the number of hours officers can work.
Over the past 10+ years, we have struggled to reach full staffing. A few years ago, we were down almost 40% of our patrol force. We currently have 5 vacancies, with another expected in February 2021. Hiring through the Civil Service system was an obstacle, but as of 2019, we are now a non-Civil Service community. We just gave an entry level test in August 2020, and we expect to fill all six positions with quality candidates.
The Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) governs the content of the police academy and in-service training. The MPTC routinely accepts guidance from professional agencies and specialized groups who offer topics for training.
The annual in-service 40-hour training has a day on legal updates, a day on topical issues (i.e. racial profiling, mental health first aid, proper use of social media), a day on defensive tactics (including recommended de-escalation tactics and strategies), and a day for CPR/first responder recertification.
The Police Administrative Captain then supplements this training with firearm/use of force and de-escalation training and identifies other programming that may be specific to Lexington's needs. For example, we are seeking to train all officers in crisis intervention, restorative justice, and the services offered by the domestic violence advocates.
As funding permits, the Administrative Captain is responsible for identifying training opportunities that supplement the training provided by the MPTC. Anyone can submit suggestions and if appropriate, we may incorporate the training into our programming. Short training programs (approximately 15-minutes) can be presented at roll-call.
We provide training and other experiences to give officers a sound understanding of community priorities. We train all officers in mental health, first aid and 50% of our officers and dispatchers are trained in crisis intervention. We have hosted and participated in discussions with Lexington community groups and have participated in many of the cultural celebrations.
De-escalation and avoiding bias in policing starts with hiring individuals with good character and common sense. Most have college degrees and/or prior work experience that allows us to judge their ability to make good decisions. Our background investigations are extensive, and candidates with any behavioral issues are not hired. De-escalation training is embedded in all training consistent with our professional responsibility to be ethical and responsible officers for the community.
While we do not have this type of analysis data, it's only because it's not specifically measurable. However, given the very low number of complaints and nearly non-existent legal actions involving the LPD, this demonstrates the effectiveness of the training and the quality of officers.
A very short while ago, LPD officers were confronted with a violent armed person, with a history of violent conduct, who was trying to attack others with a knife. When officers arrived, he made it clear to the police, "you will have to kill me." Officers used time, space and obstacles to attempt to de-escalate the event. When that did not work, they used less lethal options even after the man grabbed an officer's weapon. He was successfully restrained and transported immediately to the hospital for evaluation.
We have other success stories that generally do not get reported on. These stories demonstrate the sound judgement of our officers The private emails, kind letters from families and the occasional box of cookies helps remind us of our important role
The Lexington Police Department was the 17th police agency in the Commonwealth to be accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission in 2016. There are over 400 police agencies (including colleges and universities) in the Commonwealth, and less than 25% have adopted the best practices in policing as required in the police accreditation program.
These standards require us to review our services and methods annually. The accreditation program requires re-accreditation every three years, and we are required to prove to independent, external inspectors that we do actually adhere to the policies and procedures that we have adopted and our officers follow.
Police departments who are committed to their community welcome public scrutiny and input. All Lexington Police policies are online for public viewing and comment. We are committed to looking at any complaint, including anonymous complaints. The Town Manager is routinely briefed on police operations. We believe most individuals who have worked with our department during Town Meeting, or in other public forums, will say police officials are open, honest, and frank with their information. We believe we can only be successful if we are open to productive criticism and are willing to consider changes.
The Lexington Police Chief is appointed under M.G.L. Chapter 41, section 97A colloquially referred to as the "weak chief" statute. In essence, the Chief of Police does not have the authority to hire, fire, promote or discipline (over 5-days suspension). This authority rests by law with the Town Manager (Select Board-Town Manager Act adopted by Lexington in 1967). The Town Manager is also responsible for approving police policies.
The Town Manager is in turn responsible to the Select Board. This provides civilian review of police activities that can be enhanced as needed at the discretion of the Town Manager and/or Select Board.
The Town Manager is the disciplinary authority for the Lexington Police Department, with protocols established in consultation with the labor unions. The Chief of Police, or a designee, works closely with the Human Resources Director and/or the Town Manager when a disciplinary action will be taken.
The Chief of Police is primarily responsible for the internal affairs. These policies are available for review on the Police Department's website (52 A - Internal Affairs Maintaining Professional Standards (PDF) and 52 B - Internal Affairs Investigation and Forms (PDF); internal affairs and forms). All complaints, including anonymous complaints, are investigated.
Police officers on details is a Massachusetts' standard. A respected Labor Counsel once said that, "we don't pay police officers enough, and then expect them to be able to make "ends meet" by working too much overtime and road details."
A Police Officer with a bachelor's degree, working nights, can expect to make approximately $90,000 per year (without Over Time or detail work) which is not enough to own a home in or near Lexington. Many officers work extra hours, often at unusual times, on holidays and weekends, to live comfortably in the Boston area. Since flag holders have been allowed in Massachusetts, very few if any communities have used them.
We require police officers on details to carry their duty equipment as additional officers available in case of an emergency. In the event of an emergency, these officers are immediately activated off their detail work to assist with an emergency call.
We have employees represented by six unions. The Lexington Police Association (patrol officers and detectives), the IBPO 501 Superior Officers Association (Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants), the AFSCME 1703 Dispatchers, SEIO 888 (Crossing Guards), the Lexington Municipal Employees Association and the Lexington Municipal Managers Association.
The mutual labor agreements have a significant impact on how the we manage the working conditions and/or benefits of its employees. It is important that we have good working relationships and timely communication and we work with our labor unions to improve the department.
The Town of Lexington and the Police Department specifically prohibits police officers from associating with organizations that have a documented history of hate speech and involvement with hate crimes. If someone believes that an officer is so associated, this should be reported to the Police Chief or the Town Manager.
Qualified Immunity is a standard set by the Supreme Court of the United States. I anticipate that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court or the Massachusetts Legislature will debate the issue at length.
Locally, we try to hire good people, train them properly, provide quality supervision, investigate violations of policy and procedures, and take the appropriate disciplinary action when called upon to do so. With this strategy, we are in the best position to avoid litigation.
We monitor and restrict the number of work hours employees have. The Captain of Administration will intervene if a problem develops.
Lexington had a Police Policy Manual Committee appointed by the Select Board (1976-2018). This Committee helped review all police policies. Given the Town Manager Act, former Town Manager Carl Valente felt that this Select Board Committee should be replaced with a Town Manager working group. It is our goal to establish this working group in the near future.