Recently four West Hartford mothers reached out to me to ask what the West Hartford Police Department is doing in response to recent national events centered on police use of force. Our conversation centered around a couple of themes: What are we doing in West Hartford to improve police/community relations; and how does the Department ensure proper use of force by its officers? I believe that better understanding by everyone is an important element in preventing tragic incidents. Communication is critical in ensuring a positive partnership with our community.
The West Hartford Police Department has been diligent in addressing the concerns that all of these recent tragic events have brought into focus. I thought it would be appropriate and helpful to share some of what we've been doing at the West Hartford Police Department.
1) Hiring - Our Department needs to reflect the diversity of our community. We have instituted several new measures in an attempt to find and attract a more diverse candidate pool. Last year we held our first annual recruitment open house which generated an increase in our minority applicants. We've also added a new line item in our budget which is earmarked specifically for diversity recruitment, retention and promotion.
2) Background - Our hiring process is rigorous and selective. Only 5% of applicants successfully pass the process. All WHPD applicants must have at least 4 years of active military service or 60 college credits. The majority of our officers hold a Bachelor's degree and close to a dozen have or are actively pursuing a Master's degree. Through the course of this hiring process, which includes a polygraph exam and a robust psychological assessment, applicants are vetted for any issues which demonstrate an improper bias or prejudice, or who may exercise quick judgment or temper. Applicants whose behavior suggests such concerns are removed early on in our process. Even after our officers complete the rigorous hiring process and training at the State’s Police Training Academy, they undergo further training with our own Field Training Officers. Throughout that process their behavior and judgment is constantly monitored to ensure that they are well suited to be police officers.
3) Mission Statement - The WHPD mission statement reads, in part, "We will treat every individual with respect." All of our officers are expected to treat everyone with fairness and respect, regardless of their race, age, gender or sexual orientation. I know how important it is for that mission to be practiced from the top down. I have personally been involved in civil and human rights work for well over a decade. In my role as Chief, I sit down with each new hire individually – more than 40 in the past 4 1/2 years. I share my thoughts and experiences with all of those officers and impress upon them that we take this philosophy to heart. On our website you will find a link to our Fair and Impartial Policing policy.
4) Training - Through annual regional in-service training hosted at WHPD, our officers go through training to understand the issues associated with racial profiling and implicit biases and how to conduct Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP). Additionally, the training staff at WHPD have emphasized and trained de-escalation techniques to all of our officers for many years now. All of our front-line supervisors, field training officers, and school resource officers have been instructed in crisis intervention techniques. This training addresses how to respond to individuals with mental illness and their families in order to improve our response to people in crisis.
5) Use of Force - Early in 2016, the Department updated its Use of Force policies. We followed model policies from around the country and our policies were referred for legal review by an outside expert. One significant change concerns reporting on use of force. Use of force by our officers has always required the completion of a full police report. Now, any use of force above compliant handcuffing requires the completion of a separate use of force report. This document is reviewed by supervisory staff, training staff, command staff and the police administration. To that end, each use of force by a West Hartford officer is reviewed at several levels to ensure that it was appropriate and that it complied with our policies as well as any applicable state statutes. Additionally, all of our police cruisers are equipped with cameras which record police activity and which are available to us for review. Police officers, supervisors, training staff and the administration regularly review car stops, citizen interactions and any critical incidents. Every incident is viewed as a learning opportunity. On our Department website you will find a link to our Use of Force policy.
6) Increased Community Outreach - The WHPD has always enjoyed a strong working relationship with our community but that relationship can always be improved. It is just as important for you to understand us as it is for us to understand you. Over the last several years we have enhanced our outreach through a variety of programs including Coffee Talk with Local Leaders, Meet Your Beat Officer, Coffee with the Chief for Faith Based Leaders and the University of Hartford’s “On the Floor with Coach Gallagher” program. We’ve assigned an officer specifically to the Hillcrest Avenue Neighborhood Outreach Center to work with the youth. We have officers assigned to all schools. We host both a college and citizen academy, and we offer ride-alongs to community members who would like to see the work of an officer firsthand. We are currently working with another local university on a community outreach enhancement initiative.
7) Citizen Complaints - Any citizen may file a complaint. While we prefer to speak with the complainant, we do accept anonymous complaints. We take these complaints very seriously. Even in cases where we conclude that the officer involved acted properly, it is important that we do what we can to explain why we have reached that conclusion. These cases are typically assigned to our Special Investigations Division which investigates each matter and completes a detailed report. The report is then submitted to our Citizen Complaint Review Board (CCRB) which is composed of both police officers and civilian members, including minority representatives. The CCRB then makes a written determination and recommendation of findings to the Chief of Police. On our website you will find a link to our Citizen Complaint Procedure.
Finally, I feel it's important to point out that while I head this department, the real work is done by our talented and dedicated staff, including our sworn personnel and civilians. They not only brainstorm on new ideas and ways to improve, but it is those officers and supervisors who turn our mission statement into reality. We also need an engaged community, where community members, whether residents, visitors or business leaders, continue to bring forward ideas, comments or concerns to our attention. The men and women of this department are not only committed to reflect the values of this community, but also to be a part of it.
Chief Gove published the following opinion, “Stop Cycle of Tragedy” recently in the Hartford Courant after the tragic incident in Dallas. It is all the more relevant now in light of events in Baton Rouge:
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