Tisbury police take aim at updating policies
The Tisbury Police Department (TPD) recently took aim at updating its manual, to keep everyone on the same page about policies and rules.
Police Chief Daniel Hanavan presented 10 new and/or revised TPD policies to the Tisbury selectmen at a meeting in August, which they reviewed and approved a few weeks later. The policies and related procedures address: Arrest protocol, criminal offender record information, in-car video cameras, less-lethal munitions, protective custody, search and seizure, stops and frisks, use of force, use-of-force reporting, and vehicular pursuit.
"This starts us moving forward," Chief Hanavan told The Times last week. "You want to have policies in the department that are guidelines people can refer to and are standard. Every department has to have policies, so you know your job."
Also, since many of the TPD's policies have not been updated for many years, Chief Hanavan said the changes bring Tisbury in consistency with other Island towns. If plans under discussion by the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen about possibly merging their police departments come to fruition, Chief Hanavan said both now work under general policies that every department needs and are very similar.
Consultant suggests updates
Revision of the TPD's policies stemmed from recommendations from Robert Wasserman, a West Tisbury resident and international security consultant.
The Tisbury selectmen hired Mr. Wasserman to review the police department's operations and management after former Chief John Cashin abruptly left his job in May 2009. They also appointed Mr. Hanavan as acting chief immediately after Mr. Cashin's departure.
In Mr. Wasserman's final report in May 2010, he recommended that the TPD develop policies to address key issues of concern within the department and community. He suggested that the TPD use policies from the Municipal Police Institute (MPI) manual as a template, which were developed in accordance with Massachusetts law and are in wide use in police departments across the state.
As acting police chief, Mr. Hanavan began to develop the TPD's policy and procedure manual right away. Last April he assigned a 15-year veteran member of the department, Sergeant (Sgt.) Robert Fiske, to spearhead the project, and kept it as a priority after his one-year appointment as police chief by the Tisbury selectmen.
In preparation for his task, Sgt. Fiske looked at police policies and procedures from many cities and towns across the state and the country. He then looked at the MPI manual's 70 to 75 policies and procedures and narrowed those down to about 50 that applied to Tisbury.
"Most of it we do or have been doing anyway, but it's good to have something written down and know why we do it," Sgt. Fiske said.
He picked the first 10 policies in consultation with Chief Hanavan.
"There were some that Mr. Wasserman and Chief Hanavan felt were important, and some that I felt were good for the new officers, and a good reminder for the old officers, about what we do, how we do it, and why," Sgt. Fiske said.
"Across the board, we have guys 25 years old that don't know life without a cell phone, and guys 50 years old that do," he pointed out. "There's initially a reluctance when you start mentioning policies and procedures, but when it's explained that they help everybody operate in the same way and that no matter who you work with throughout the department, you're on the same page, then everyone agrees that's a good thing."
Sgt. Fiske said the updated manual also benefits the public.
"It standardizes things so everybody is treated the same," he said. "We do have a large transient population on the Island, and what people are used to back home in New York or New Jersey or whatever country they come from, they will know that here everybody is treated the same, whether they live here or visit here."
Policies for new technology
While some of the TPD's policies and procedures required only minor revisions to update, it was necessary to create new ones to address the use of state-of-the-art equipment such as in-car video cameras and less-lethal weapons.
The TPD purchased four in-car digital video cameras in 2009 with funds former Chief Cashin obtained through a Community Policing Grant in 2009. The equipment cost $24,000 and its installation about $1,700, according to Tisbury town accountant Suzanne Kennedy.
The cameras automatically start recording with the activation of a patrol car's flashing blue lights. Officers may also manually activate recording.
"When we initially got the video system, we had no policy in place for it," Sgt. Fiske said. Now a new policy spells out what activities to record, and what recordings should be stored and for how long.
In regard to a new less-lethal munitions policy, the TPD is actually ahead of the game, Sgt Fiske said. The department recently purchased less-lethal 12-gauge shotguns that fire flexible projectile "bean bag" rounds, which Chief Hanavan described as pouches filled with small round lead pellets.
"Every officer has been trained for its use and certified," Sgt. Fiske said. "We anticipate mounting at least one weapon in cruisers in the coming months, so the chief and I thought it imperative that a policy is in place so that when we're ready to put them in cars, we don't have to wait on creating a policy."
In order to finish the first batch of policies, Sgt. Fiske said he committed time on each work shift to chip away at them, sometimes from 3 to 4 am.
"MPI did most of legwork so we're not creating something out of thin air," he said. "Plus, the MPI manual is approved by the Massachusetts Association of Chiefs of Police."
A Tisbury bylaw requires that any policy developed by the head of a town department must be presented for approval by the selectmen, who have 30 days to review and act on it.
Before Chief Hanavan submitted the TPD policies to the selectmen, Sgt. Fiske made them available to all members of the department for their questions and comments over a three- to four-week review period.
Although it was a completely open process, Sgt. Fiske said, "I told them if they wanted to comment anonymously, they could even leave me a sticky note on my desk that had been typed on a computer."
Police officers provide feedback
When asked which policies prompted the most comment, Sgt. Fiske said he received several questions about the use-of-force reporting policy and what definition of "force" would trigger the requirement to file a separate report.
"Basically we came to the consensus that if force resulted in injury to an officer or any person, the department would keep a separate report," he said. "If it's a matter of somebody who resists going to jail and struggles against having handcuffs put on, we don't want to require the officer to write a report to say that."
The TPD's in-car video policy also raised some questions. "We tossed around that even though the law does not require we tell the person that we stop that the incident may be recorded, we recommended that officers do so anyway, because if someone knows they're being taped, it may help keep that person in line," Sgt. Fiske said.
Although the cameras do have audio recording capabilities, the department does not use them currently, he added.
"The law dictates that if we were to record someone's voice, we must tell them," Sgt. Fiske said. "You can take an image without someone's knowledge or consent but you can't record their voice without their knowledge or consent."
As a result of recent discussions about the new in-car video policy, the audio issue may be subject to change in the future, Sgt. Fiske said.
After the TPD's review and the selectmen's approval of the policies and procedures, he provided everyone in the department with a copy on a computer disc, which can be easily updated. Chief Hanavan initially presented the policies to the selectmen and town administrator John Bugbee in printed form in a three-ring binder.
Although Mr. Bugbee oversees municipal employees in terms of town personnel policies and union grievance procedures, he said it would be up to Chief Hanavan to implement the TPD's latest policies.
In the meantime, Sgt. Fiske said he is putting the finishing touches on additional policies that would soon undergo the same review and approval process.
"Our plan is to continue in batches, so nobody's overwhelmed, and that will bring us up to a full set of policies and procedures," he said.