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In response to several public records requests and pressure from community members, Lebanon police released a redacted copy of their department policies online on Thursday.
This comes just over a month after hundreds marched through Lebanon’s streets in a protest against racism and police brutality spurred by the Memorial Day death of George Floyd. In the weeks since, community leaders pushed for the department to release its full use-of-force policies, but the city redacted the “tactical policies” – or those that have to do with the actual actions officers take during their duties – as is allowed under the state’s Right to Know Law.
The policy manual – more than 200 pages long – includes sections on professional conduct and responsibilities, fitness for duty, department discipline and investigations/arrests/reporting.
The city also posted a commitment to racial equity online, which included some information about use of force, police hiring and training and “alternative approaches” officers can take.
According to the document, chokeholds are not part of the department’s training or policies.
Annual sensitivity and racial equity and crisis intervention training for all officers are now required, as are de-escelation for mentally ill residents, according to the commitments to racial equity.
Use-of-force policies redacted
Capello said Lebanon redacted its tactical policies because releasing them could pose a safety risk to officers, suspects and the general public, a position taken by other departments across the state, according to reporting from PA Post. Police Chief Todd Breiner deferred comment to Capello, and did not respond to a question asking how exactly releasing the use-of-force policies would endanger public safety.
Community leader Amaury Abreu said he is hoping the full use-of-force policies will be released in the future.
“If the police are generally working for the public, then the public should have access to that information,” Abreu said.
Council member Amy Keller, who filed one of the public records requests for the city, has been pushing to get access to the use-of-force policies for weeks. So far, no luck. While acknowledging officers can encounter difficult situations, Keller pointed to the city’s relatively low instances of violent crime as a reason why the use-of-force policies could be safely released.
“Our officers are not going out into a war zone every day,” Keller said.
Making the policies public is a matter of transparency for Keller, who said it would also help people know what their rights are.
“We need people to be able to know when they’re being mistreated,” Keller said.
Town hall meeting in the works
Though Abreu said the release of the policies is a good start, he and other community leaders are hoping for more action.
The protest in early June was a spark for many in the community to get more involved, Abreu said, leading many to educate themselves on local government and start to organize to address local issues.
Former council member Cornell Wilson said he has tried to schedule a meeting with Capello about establishing a community policing board that would work as a bridge between the department and residents. Two young Lebanon residents have also started a group called Running for Black Lives that they hope will build community in Lebanon.
Capello is in the early stages of planning a public town hall meeting for the community to be able to voice concerns with the police and ask questions. Originally hoping to delay the meeting until Lebanon entered the green phase to have it in-person, Capello said it now looks likely they will schedule a Zoom meeting instead for sometime in the coming weeks.
Lebanon resident Joshua Spaulding, who took on a leadership role during the early June protest, said he feels there aren’t enough opportunities for the community to regularly talk with elected officials. Spaulding plans to attend the meeting, and said he feels it’s his duty to speak up for those who aren’t able.
“When the time comes to say something, I want to make that little bit of difference to change the energy and make it better for the community,” Spaulding said.
Capello said she hopes the meeting will establish and build trust with the community.
“I believe we have a well-trained and well-disciplined police force, but there’s always room for improvement,” Capello said. “We want to have an open dialogue with our community.”
Nora Shelly can be reached at 717-454-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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