Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory gives council an update at a meeting in late 2020. / File photo by Katie Kuba

City police department aligns policy manual with changing national standards

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Police Department has updated its policy and procedures manual to include an express ban on chokeholds and a duty to intervene in the instance of a policy violation.

At last week’s Buckhannon City Council meeting, police chief Matt Gregory told council he’d been working to update the police department’s policies and procedures to align them with changing national standards issued by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA.

The changes aren’t surprising, Gregory noted, given the issues that have surfaced in the national news regarding excessive use of force following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Since 2018, the BPD has been working toward accreditation through CALEA, which markets itself as the ‘gold standard in public safety.’ The nearly three-year process has involved incorporating a set of national best practice standards and a mock review earlier this summer of BPD operations.

Prior to the national standards changes, Gregory had already been revising the police department’s policy and procedures handbook after receiving feedback from a mock assessment by a certified CALEA instructor.

The only other law enforcement agency in the Mountain State accredited through CALEA is the Parkersburg Police Department, although the Charles Town Police Department is in the initial assessment phase, just like the BPD.

“We underwent our mock assessment, and we’ve been responding to suggestions and recommendations as a result of that,” Gregory told council at its Thursday, Aug. 20 meeting. “We received a lot of really good feedback. In addition, CALEA just issued another update to its Standards Manual, and this actually marks the sixth manual change since we enrolled in 2018.”

Each time CALEA’s national standards change, the BPD’s polices must reflect those revisions, even though it’s still in the initial assessment phase.

“In addition to the mock assessment, we’ve been making changes in response to the Standards Manual change,” Gregory said. “Most of the changes in the current standards manual version really probably come as no shock and are really at the forefront of some of the issues with policing that have been in the news lately.”

Gregory said two examples of changes being incorporated are a duty to intervene and an explicit ban on chokeholds.

“If an officer happens to see misuse of force or a violation of policy, we have the duty for [observing officers] to intervene and report that to supervisors,” the police chief explained. “We had that already – it was already part of our old policy.”

“We also now have an express ban on chokeholds, and that wasn’t something that we regularly practiced,” he added. “Our use of force policy only allowed us to utilize what we’re trained on, and we weren’t trained on chokeholds and haven’t been, so this is just an express statement that we have in place [prohibiting them].”

Gregory asked mayor Robbie Skinner to assemble a policy review committee sometime after Labor Day, noting he wanted to distribute the updated policy manual to officers in September and host an on-site assessment in early Spring 2021, after which, if successful, the BPD would officially obtain its CALEA accreditation.

The benefits of becoming CALEA-accredited include increased community advocacy, reduced risk and liability exposure, more accountability within the agency and a stronger defense against civil lawsuits, among other items, according to its website.

In other law enforcement-related news, Gregory announced Sgt. William Courtney had selected a 15-month-old Dutch shepherd named Erros as the BPD’s new K-9 officer. Courtney, who will serve as Erros’s handler, will attend a training and September’s end with the K-9/canine, and make an official presentation to council sometime after training is completed in November 2020.

“One of the reasons officer Courtney selected Erros is because he’s very people-friendly, and that’s a quality we were looking for in the K-9,” Gregory said.

Erros and Courtney will complete training at Shallow Creek Kennels is Sharpsville, Pa.

Gregory also noted the Volunteers in Police Service, or VIPS – the all-volunteer wing of the BPD that helps with traffic control, crowd control and other, more minor tasks – had recently added three new members, bringing VIPS up to a membership of 15 people.

“We have a retired person, a college-aged person and person who’s somewhere in the middle, so it’s a nice mix,” he said.

Finally, Gregory presented a quote on cameras, including an upgrade to existing police body cameras and the purchase of 11 in-car cameras that would equip all 11 police vehicles.

“This would also upgrade existing body cameras to have wireless capacity, and so it would be a cloud-based server instead of an on-site server,” he explained. “We must house all videos for two years unless it’s evidentiary.”

The five-year project of installing in-car cameras and upgrading body cameras is expected to cost about $117,669, and the lowest and only bidder was the company, WatchGuard. Council approved the quote unanimously, having already approved the allocation of funds for the project during its 2020-2021 fiscal year budget session in March.

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