Salem police will have body cameras by summer, release more crime data and policies

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The department also intends to provide more in-depth training to help officers build trust with the people they interact with as part of their three-year strategic plan, released this week.

(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem Police Department chiefs will provide officers with body-worn cameras, want to track the department’s crime and accident response data, and provide more in-depth training dedicated to building trust, to the use of force and de-escalation.

It is according to the ministry’s three-year plan strategic plan, released this week. Chief Trevor Womack and department heads spent several months drafting the plan after gathering community feedback through a survey in the fall.

Womack said the agency has reduced the number of body camera vendors to three and will make a decision after agents test them, which he says will begin in mid-March.

Womack said officers were on track for cameras on hand between July and September.

The plan provides for a department »transparency portalwhich has been online for two weeks. The page includes data on crime and calls for service, the department’s budget, community surveys, and independent agency assessments.

Womack said he’s been committed to working on the portal since taking over as Salem’s police chief.

“I hope, since we announced it in our strategic plan, that we look back after these three years and that we are much more transparent than today,” he said. “But it will require even more work. We need better technology, we need more staff to be able to share this data with the community.

The portal will eventually include agency policies and procedures. Womack said the department is nearing the end of an accreditation process that takes place every two years and involves policy review. Its goal for the calendar year is to “do a full policy review,” he said, and the department is working with a vendor to purchase software to release its updated procedures, likely sometime in the future. next year.

An independent assessment of the Salem Police Department released last year found the department could make better use of data, needed to create a strategic plan and should consider requiring all officers to participate in team training crisis intervention, a program where police work with mental health professionals.

Womack said they will prioritize rolling out policies that have more impact on community trust, such as officers using force.

Revisions to policies and the training program will also be informed by meetings with a newly created “advisory council” for Womack, which includes a cross section of the community that is represented by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. He said they have met three times so far.

The department has committed to training all sworn officers in crisis intervention through a 40-hour advanced course. This means officers are often taken out of their normal duties for a week-long training course.

“You have to fill the vacancy that creates in our patrol or in their normal jobs, it’s a logistical nightmare for us,” he said, “And right now with Covid, compounded by absences and furloughs illness, etc., it’s a real challenge at the moment.

Womack said the department recently had to shut down three “special units” — its traffic unit, community action unit and strategic investigations unit — and have those employees handle service calls to prioritize maintaining the training of agents.

Twenty Salem officers completed the 40-hour crisis response training last year, and Womack said he expects another 20 or 30 to complete it in 2021. The department had planned 189 officers to full time in March 2021.

“There is no set schedule. It’s not like we’re going to say, okay, every new officer will get this training in the first year or two,” he said. “We’re just committing to every officer going through this training at some point, and we kind of have to base it on staffing needs and where people are posted until we can actually follow through. this formation.”

The department recently added “procedural justice” training, which Womack says focuses on active listening and officers “treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of the situation or circumstance,” taking fair and neutral decisions when responding to protests and other situations, and “acting in a trustworthy manner”, such as following their word.

The plan included creating a way to collect feedback from people who interact with the police to measure their progress in building trust. “I even think of things like, boy, wouldn’t it be nice to get more information in real time? After a service call is completed, we give people a business card with a QR code that links them to a customer service survey. »

Over the next three years, the Salem Police plan also includes seeking written agreements and establishing procedures with community organizations.

Womack said those could include efforts such as the existing relationship with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency’s “Gladiator” program, which offers mentorship to high-risk youth.

“We already have working relationships with partners around the issue of homelessness or behavioral health or addictions, different service providers in the community, but those are just informal relationships,” he said. -he declares. “The idea here is just to professionalize more and make sure that we develop (a memorandum of understanding), for example, with a partner to clarify our roles.”

He said the department will develop a system to measure its performance across all units. “Let’s say our traffic unit, we decide we want to reduce injury crashes by a certain percentage, and we’ve identified some intersections that have a high incidence of crashes and we want to start tracking how we’re doing.” , did he declare. .

In the interest of focusing on serious traffic violations that cause crashes, like speeding or running a red light, he said Salem police would start making fewer stops. traffic for equipment violations like lights not working or a cracked windshield.

“It’s not so much that we were already focusing on equipment violations, as far less than 10% of our traffic stops already involve equipment violations. So it’s not a big change for us, but it’s worth indicating in the plan that we are focusing on the causes of injury collisions,” he said. “We want to keep our community safe. And for me, road safety means reducing the number of fatalities – pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, as well as non-fatal collisions where people are seriously injured.

Performance measurement, Womack said, could also mean regular internal audits to randomly check the evidence inventory and document whether it was properly processed and filed.

He said the Salem Police Professional Standards Unit will now be responsible for handling all staff complaints, use of force audits and other accountability measures within the department.

For years, the department has shared use of force audits with the Community Policing Review Board. “But I think the public usually never sees them or is unaware of them,” he said. “There are some things we’re already doing that are really good best practices, accountability measures that we want to start posting on our transparency portal.”

Womack said the department will also establish a process to identify potential concerns about an officer — such as multiple accidents and staff complaints — through its performance reviews and intervene “before a major issue develops.” He said the idea is not revolutionary or new, but does not currently exist within the department.

“We want to make sure that we intervene in some way in a non-disciplinary way, whether it is providing training or advice or connecting this agent to our wellbeing network for support. by peers, or any other need that might need to be met to try to make sure the officer stays on track before it turns into some sort of disciplinary issue,” he said.

Womack also said he wants to write and follow a protocol for issuing press releases in a timely manner, instead of relying on an informal, unwritten policy internally.

On Monday, the Salem Police Department sent out a press release about the death of Richard Meyers following a car chase that did not explicitly say whether officers shot the man or if he was armed.

Womack said he did not control the information released because the Marion County District Attorney called in Oregon State Police to investigate the use of lethal force against Meyers.

Regarding public criticism of the department’s opaque statement on the shooting, Womack said he never likes to have a press release that leaves people confused or wondering what exactly happened. Womack said those facts will be shared at some point after a grand jury decision, “which will answer all questions.” He also said the department did not want to release certain information when the officers involved had not yet been interviewed.

“My message to the community would be that we need to ask for patience for these same reasons. It’s complex, and to make sure you have a completely fair objective investigation, sometimes you just have to remember the facts, even if you would like to share them, ”he said.

Contact journalist Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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