Chief Tracey Gove wrote an open letter to the West Hartford community Monday to advise residents about procedures already place to ensure proper use of force and how the department works to get to know with residents.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove spent the weekend pondering a conversation he had with four local moms last week, and decided that what was discussed was so critical he would share it with the entire community.
“Not everybody knows us the way they should,” Gove said. “We want you to know the police department before you need them.”
West Hartford has multiple programs in place to enhance the department’s relationship with the community, and to train officers in proper use of force, but it’s hard to reach everyone in the community, Gove said. He is hopeful that his letter, reproduced below, will provide valuable information that residents should know.
Gove said that the four women contacted him via email on July 10, and on July 14 he spent about an hour and a half meeting with them discussing their concerns about how the department ensures the safety of its residents and the overall community. The shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge over the weekend made Gove realize how even more critically important it is for everyone to know what the West Hartford Police Department, is doing, and will continue to do.
“It’s always been a concern of mine to do things to make the community better, but we don’t always give ourselves a pat on the back,” Gove said. He has been chief for four and a half years, but many of the initiatives were put in place by his predecessors. “What Chief Strillacci said [when he retired] didn’t hit home until I became chief. It’s the people who make [this department] great.”
“Although I have taken the lead, we have many talented people with great ideas. They really carry on our mission,” said Gove. That mission includes, in part: “We will treat every individual with respect.”
Gove said he believes West Hartford is nationally ahead of the curve in nurturing a relationship with the community as well as ensuring proper use of force. Many other law enforcement agencies in the state are ahead of the curve as well, he said.
Gove is aware that in light of recent violence against police officers, there could be uneasiness among department members. “We told them to increase their vigilance but maintain their resolve,” Gove said. There are procedures in place with appropriate actions if a threat is made.
The West Hartford Police Department also has a “confidential and robust” employee assistance plan in place to provide counseling to officers if they would like it.
“This is an inherently dangerous job,” Gove said, but the goal is to get everyone home safely.
OPEN LETTER TO OUR COMMUNITY
Chief Tracey G. Gove
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 percent 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.
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