Local Government and Politics, News, Police/Fire

Swampscott Police Department sheds light on itself

This article was published 1 year(s) and 4 month(s) ago.

SWAMPSCOTT — The Police Department has concluded its first annual analysis of officers’ response to resistance and use of force for the fiscal year 2021, showing that its personnel had not violated any policies or laws and used reasonable and necessary force during arrests of violently resisting persons. 

“We were talking about opportunities to be more transparent to the Swampscott community and it dawned on us as we were having that meeting that the community gives the police the power that we utilize on a daily basis; and it would seem to make some sense that there was an opportunity to demonstrate to the Swampscott community how the officers of the department were utilizing that authority that had been bestowed to them,” said the interim Police Chief David Kurz about the purpose of such a report.

The analysis was prepared by Lt. Gary Lord, a 31-year veteran of Massachusetts Law Enforcement, a former supervisor of the Swampscott Police Department Criminal Investigations Division and four-year firearms and taser instructor. It was reviewed by Capt. Joseph Kable of the Swampscott Police Department (SPD).

The analysis showed that between June 2020 and July 2021, SPD responded to approximately 22,948 calls for service, only seven of which led to the use of force by police officers due to resistance from the suspects.

All seven incidents of resistance involved men — six of whom were white. Only one person of color, a Hispanic man, resisted Swampscott police officers during his arrest in FY21. Kurz said that in the case of Ernst Jean-Jacques, a Black man arrested in December 2020 as part of the Black Lives Matter protesters, the police did not use force and Jean-Jacques did not resist the arrest.

Most suspects involved in the use-of-force incidents were between the ages of 41-50, with the oldest being 52 years old and the youngest being 16. 

Although it is widely understood that alcohol and drugs play a significant role in poor judgment and decision-making by persons subjected to a lawful arrest, the data showed that a suspect was alcohol impaired in only one out of the seven incidents. One of the incidents was related to domestic violence, causing Lord to recommend that SPD continue to offer training on domestic violence. 

Police officers drew their weapons, displaying deadly force in only two instances, however, no firearms were discharged. In the first incident, Swampscott officers responded to a robbery in progress at a liquor store. The officer’s gun was returned into its holster as soon as the suspect was handcuffed.

In the second incident, SPD received a call about shots fired with a gunshot victim on scene. The suspects tried to flee in a vehicle. Once the vehicle was stopped, a Swampscott cruiser and a Massachusetts state trooper conducted a felony traffic stop. Swampscott officers returned their weapon to the holsters once all of the occupants of the vehicle were secured.

“If you display (the weapon), you should be justified in using it or it should be potentially foreseeable that the need may arise that you would have to use it every time it is displayed. We have to complete a us-of-force report just like we actually used it,” said Kable.

In addition to pistols, SPD is equipped with tasers as a tool. 

“The taser is authorized when it’s either anticipated or there is assaultive behavior. So the person has to be actively assaulted, but not necessarily at a deadly force level,” Kable said.

A taser was drawn from the holster and pointed at the suspect one time during FY21, according to the annual analysis. 

“If they are able to identify that the primary driver of the call is mental health then they are expected to restrain from using the taser, unless it is justified to prevent them from using deadly force,” said Kable.

Two of the calls involving resistance were identified as mental-health related. 

“Although officers continue to receive annual training in the identification and appropriate interaction with people suffering from mental illness, it can be an extremely fine line for an officer to actually make a connection when taking a person into custody who is physically resisting the lawful command of the officer,” the report said. 

The department said that in 2020-21 it put extra emphasis on mental-health-awareness training for all of its members. Detective Ted Delano started a Mental Health Task Force that got on its feet within the last five months, Kable said.

Currently, five officers within the task force follow up on calls related to mental-health issues and connect individuals to resources in the community. However, the size of the department does not allow it to establish a whole crisis-intervention team.

Kurz said that he is hoping to advocate for some American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money being used towards trained specialists who would respond to active calls with individuals in a mental-health crisis. 

The annual review concluded that overall there is no emerging pattern that would suggest that any Swampscott officer or officers collectively use force greater than is reasonable and necessary or act in an overly aggressive or “badge-heavy” manner.

SPD will continue its field-training program and in-service training programs that provide officers with appropriate response and de-escalation techniques, and continue to seek mental-health-, domestic-violence-, and suicide-related-awareness training. 

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