Following new state law, Warwick OKs use-of-force policy for Police Department

  • Warwick Police Chief David Shoemaker, pictured outside the Police Station in 2017, presented a use-of-force policy to the Selectboard this week. The board unanimously approved the policy. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2021 9:07:24 PM

WARWICK — Prompted by the statewide police reform legislation that became law in December, the Selectboard unanimously approved the use-of-force policy presented by Police Chief David Shoemaker this week.

“We’re all aware of the new police reform package that has come down the pike,” Shoemaker said, referring to “An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth,” which creates a mandatory certification process for police officers, increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, and gives police departments a greater ability to hire or promote only qualified applicants. “This is only a small part of it,” he added.

The presented use-of-force policy, which Shoemaker said had been vetted by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, meets the new standards of the police reform law and is required of towns across the state. Shoemaker said the new policy document goes into more detail on certain terms and procedures, but ultimately “doesn’t differ too much” from the policy the Warwick Police Department already had in place.

“I’ve been on the job about 20 years now — we have never been trained in chokeholds,” Shoemaker said. “This particular policy outlaws it. It makes it illegal to use a chokehold.”

Shoemaker said his officers were trained in “the entire totality” of use of force, “from compliance to, unfortunately, deadly force.” He said officers were also trained and equipped with non-lethal gear, including tasers, pepper spray and de-escalating tactics.

The use-of-force policy outlines officers’ response to resistance. Sections include: force options; encounters with minors, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and physically disabled persons; less-lethal force; deadly force/lethal force; special weapons; duty to intervene; use-of-force considerations involving planned mass demonstrations; administrative relief from duty after force resulting in death or serious bodily injury; post-use-of-force incident procedures; use-of-force reporting; and training.

Selectboard member Todd Dexter inquired during Monday’s meeting about the implementation timeline for the policy. Shoemaker said there is an immediate to three-year implementation for certain aspects of the state’s police reform law, with approval of the use-of-force policy being more immediate.

Town Coordinator David Young commented he was “quite struck” reading about the new law and adapted policies.

“I didn’t like reading it, but it is so germane to the last year of Black Lives Matter, and law enforcement atrocities that I would attribute a lot of to lack of good policies or lack of adherence to good policies, or both,” Young said. “So here we are, where the rubber meets the road on this, and I am just so pleased with the Police Department and level of professionalism in the policies.”

After voting to approve the use-of-force policy, Selectboard Chair Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne echoed the sentiments of Young and others, saying he is grateful for the professionalism of the Warwick Police Department, which “prevents him from having to worry” and gives him “peace of mind.”

Selectboard hires new part-time police officer

The Selectboard, acting on Shoemaker’s recommendation, also voted during Monday’s meeting to hire Northfield resident Cole Leighton as a part-time officer with the Warwick Police Department.

Leighton is the son of Northfield Police Chief Robert Leighton. He is currently pursuing a criminal justice degree at Greenfield Community College, has completed the part-time police academy with plans to attend the full-time academy, and also recently started working part-time with the Hatfield Police Department.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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