Dane Morgan says he’s heartened by meaningful police reforms spurred by protests in the wake of the notorious May 25, 2020, George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

Morgan of Lewiston was an early organizer of Black Lives Matter marches in the Twin Cities area last summer that drew hundreds to the streets of Lewiston and Auburn to demonstrate their outrage and demand change.

Morgan said he became involved as a community organizer to do his part to raise local awareness and to ensure the events were well publicized and held safely.

He said Thursday he was impressed by actions taken quickly last year by city officials who launched an “equity and diversity” committee to, among other goals, review Lewiston Police Department’s use of force and restraint policies and procedures.

Another goal of the committee was to carry out review of the city’s recruiting and hiring practices, especially at the police department, and make recommendations that would result in better reflection of the demographic composition of the community to include those under-represented in the city workforce.

Dane Morgan poses for a photo on Thursday in the front doorway of his home Lewiston. Morgan has been active in the Black Lives Movement locally. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

To that end, Morgan pointed to the hiring of four officers of color by Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley.

“Just from a personal standpoint, I appreciate the work that he’s done,” Morgan said. “From a police reform standpoint, I definitely have seen the growth.”

Meanwhile, the City of Lewiston has hired a human resources worker to develop a city workforce representative of the demographics of the city; advance equitable policies, training, practices and procedures; and ensure that the city delivers services in an equitable and inclusive manner. That new hire is expected to start mid-August, according to city officials.

“We’re always seeking diversity among our ranks in our police department,” acting Lewiston Police Chief David St. Pierre said. “We’re certainly always looking for qualified officers and we know the importance of having diversity in our police department,” he said, adding, “We have a couple of other officers that are in queue right now.”

This week, three local departments reviewed with a Sun Journal reporter their policies and procedures related to some of the issues raised during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Lewiston police officers train Thursday in de-escalation techniques, part of their monthly training aimed at stressing the minimal force required to achieve their purposes, according to acting Chief David St. Pierre. Lewiston Police Department photo

POLICIES IN LEWISTON

De-escalation:

“We’ve added de-escalation directives as recently as June 2020,” St. Pierre said, “basically telling officers what they can and can’t do. We’ve added monthly training in Mechanics of Arrest and Control (or MARC,) and in all of those we talk about de-escalation techniques and the importance of them.”

That training, held monthly, stresses the minimal force needed for a desired outcome, he said.

St. Pierre said specifically that choke holds “are not accepted at all, ever. Once the person is in custody, the event is over.”

Anti-bias training:

“We have all kinds of implicit bias trainings that we do,” St. Pierre said, adding that officers had completed online implicit bias training in October. “It was a pretty extensive online training on implicit and explicit biases,” he said. “We’ve all had to do that.”

Nonpolice mental health support:

Lewiston police paired up in 2018 with Tri-County Mental Health Services’ Project Support You and added a full-time mental health specialist who works hand-in-hand with police. The department recently added from that same nonprofit agency two more social workers (one part-time and one full-time) who are assigned to ride along with patrol officers, St. Pierre said. One of those workers specializes in substance abuse disorders.

Anti-bias hiring:

All newly sworn officer hires must pass polygraph and psychological testing, St. Pierre said. “If there’s any indication that they have any overt biases that are red flags, they’re certainly going to be caught during those processes,” St. Pierre said.

Body cameras:

“We are all wearing body cameras full-time at this point,” St. Pierre said and have been since March. “Every officer who’s out on the road, including detectives, is mandated to wear a body camera.”

No-knock warrants:

The use of no-knock warrants has come under heightened scrutiny since the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky on March 13, 2020.

Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill last month aimed at curtailing the use of no-knock warrants and to only allow them, “in cases in which an imminent risk of death or bodily harm exists. Only officers trained in the use of stun grenade, stun, distraction or other similar devices may use such a device during the execution of the warrant.”

St. Pierre said his department rarely applies for such warrants. “The only reason we would ask for something like that would be for officer safety reasons” or where the public is at risk, he said, such as, “if we know that this person possesses a firearm and has a propensity for using it against law enforcement, we would want to catch them by surprise.”

In that case, the element of surprise would safeguard the officers and public. A judge must sign off on the warrant after ensuring it meets the criteria established by lawmakers.

New recruits to the Lewiston Police Department who graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy on July 16. Pictured from left are: Deputy Police Chief Adam Higgins, Officer Zavier Roman, Chief Brian O’Malley, Officer Olivia Bergeron and Officer Joseph Dighton. Lewiston Police Department photo

Community policing:

Lewiston’s Community Response Officer team is typically composed of a sergeant and three officers, St. Pierre said. Currently, there are only two officers assigned due to low staffing, he said. “We certainly realize the importance of community policing and that is one of our strong points at the police department,” he said. One example is an officer assigned to walk or bicycle ride a downtown beat on Lisbon Street.

The community beat officers have direct contact with the public all day and night, including assisting with the homeless population to help get them the resources they need, St. Pierre said.

POLICIES IN AUBURN

Non-police mental health support:

Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen said his department has worked with Sweetser Mental Health Mobile Crisis Unit to assist with mental health-related calls for a few year.

“When requested, they will respond directly to a scene and deliver services on-scene and will work with a person to ensure they get timely treatment services,” he said. He plans to continue to research grant funding to aid his department in improving its response to mental health-related calls, he said.

Anti-bias hiring:

All final employment candidates undergo a “rigorous screening process” which includes a polygraph exam and a comprehensive psychological examination, Moen said. “This process weeds out any unsuitable candidates for police employment.”

De-escalation policies:

“De-escalation remains a critical component of our use of force techniques and procedures,” Moen said. “Over a year ago, prior to the civil unrest, our entire agency underwent a full-day training in de-escalation techniques and uses them daily.” More than half of his department’s officers have undergone 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training.

Use of force and restraint:

Moen said his department’s policy was updated to specifically ban the use of choke holds. “Duty to intervene was also added where an officer is required to intervene when that officer believes that force being used by another officer is inappropriate,” Moen said. His department conducts a yearly use-of-force “analysis to review types of force used (on duty) and identify any trends or patterns that may require additional training or policy modification.”

Use of force complaints investigation process:

“We have stringent use of force review process that reviews each use of force incident thoroughly via the department’s chain of command to ensure policy compliance,” Moen said. “We have not had any sustained excessive use of force complaints in over nine years. We do have an investigative process to ensure any excessive use of force compliant is fully investigated.”

Body cameras:

His department plans to deploy body cameras in the field starting in the fall, Moen said. “Body cameras will supplement the in-car video systems we have had for over a decade.”

Anti-bias training:

As a nationally accredited agency, Moen said his staff undergoes anti-bias training on a biennial basis and has done so for the past 15 years.

No-knock warrants:

“A no-knock search warrant is a very rare incident for us,” he said. “Any no-knock warrant must undergo a judicial review and (be) approved by a judge before it is issued. A very detailed operations plan is also developed and must be approved by the department’s chain of command. I do not recall a no-knock warrant being conducted by this agency in the last five years.”

Racial diversity in hiring:

“We remain committed to having an agency demographic that is representative of the community demographic we serve,” Moen said. “It remains a recruitment priority for us and has been a priority for us for the last decade.”

Community policing:

“Community policing is and has always been a top priority for the agency,” Moen said. As pandemic restrictions lift, the City of Auburn is beginning to hold more community events. “Our Annual National Night Out is Tuesday, Aug. 3. Our Neighborhood Watch groups are starting to meet again, and a Coffee with a Cop event and RAD (Rape-Aggression Defense) training will be scheduled for this fall.”

Lewiston and Auburn police departments are two of only five law enforcement agencies in the state to be nationally accredited. APD is the only one to have advanced accreditation status.

Lewiston holds accreditation from the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which must show compliance with 185 standards. In its advanced accreditation status, Auburn has shown compliance with 465 standards.

CALEA is a credentialing authority through the joint efforts of law enforcement’s major executive associations that include the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

POLICIES IN ANDROSCOGGIN COUNTY

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office provides rural patrols to towns outside the Twin Cities that don’t have their own police departments. It also contracts with the town of Poland to provide full-time law enforcement coverage.

De-escalation:

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said his department provides training above and beyond what’s required by the state regarding de-escalation and situational use of force.

His department is working with Tri-County Mental Health Services to coordinate a “more active de-escalation class” in the fall for all deputies to attend, Samson said.

“Any training in additional what they’ve already seen, whether through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s Basic Law Enforcement Training Program, or what we provided last year, is beneficial,” Samson said. “It’s never a bad idea to go a little deeper, get a little bit more.”

Anti-bias training:

Samson said his department also provides implicit bias training that goes above and beyond mandatory annual training required by the state.

Mental health support:

“We have a great percentage of our patrol staff that have attended National Alliance on Mental Illness Crisis Intervention Training program,” he said. His department enrolls staff yearly for training. He said state law requires 20% of staff receive the training, but “we are much higher.” His department aims for 100% patrol staff participation.

Body cameras:

Samson said his department assigned body cameras to all deputies and set a policy for their use in 2018.

Anti-bias hiring:

As for recruitment, Samson said his department advertises in the same places as the police departments, but hires primarily from other law enforcement agencies. That’s not by choice, he said. He said he sees few applicants straight from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy with no law enforcement experience.

LESSONS FOR OTHERS

Morgan said he’s pleased with the progress he’s seen in his hometown.

“I will say that Lewiston has paid attention and definitely listens to its people and is working toward what that looks like moving forward,” he said.

Morgan said he remains frustrated by lagging progress in national policies, suggesting the rest of the country should take its cue from his city.


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