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Avondale Estates City Commission considering contract for police policy manual rewrite

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Avondale Estates City Commission considering contract for police policy manual rewrite

Krystal Kvinge holds a sign during a peaceful protest in Avondale Estates for Black Lives Matter and 21st Century Police Reform sponsored by Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice on August 8, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission is considering hiring a contractor to help the city rewrite the police department’s policy manual. The board discussed the contract during a work session on Wednesday, Feb. 22. 

The city has been meeting with the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice often to keep them informed about activities in the police department, but to also discuss ways the department can regain and rebuild community trust, City Manager Patrick Bryant said. 

“One of the things that came out of that discussion was that they would appreciate a real close, detailed look at our policies, especially given the failure to meet state [accreditation],” Bryant said. 

Members of the community and the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice have been advocating for a third-party consultant. The board first considered hiring a consultant in June 2020 and interviewed two candidates in September 2020. Residents at the meeting continued to urge the city commission to hire a consultant during a meeting in September 2021. 

The city commission is considering contracting with Lexipol for policy services and a wellness program for police officers. As part of the contract, Lexipol would help the city rewrite the police department’s policy manual, with some assistance from the AARJ. The city would also use a subscription service from Lexipol to update the manual as needed as laws change. 

“In addition to their software platform that the manual will be housed also is a platform that is compatible with the state certification process, so we can use the policy manual in the software and upload proofs to that policy manual within that same software to prepare for going forward with state certification again,” Bryant said. 

In addition to that, the city is also proposing a wellness program that hits on mental, financial, physical and nutritional wellness. 

Lexipol’s wellness program would help connect officers to confidential assessments and counseling resources, help officers cope with the effects of chronic exposure and critical events, and improve officer decision-making, empathy and resiliency, according to the proposal.

“Law enforcement agencies are increasingly recognizing the need to provide personnel with mental and behavioral health resources,” the proposal states. “The Cordico law enforcement wellness solution enables agencies to provide customized, confidential, mobile wellness resources. Our law enforcement app includes a complete range of self-assessments, as well as continuously updated videos and guides on more than 60 behavioral health topics – all designed specifically for first responders. Also included are online accredited wellness courses covering such topics as managing stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, family and work relationships, and fitness and nutrition.”

The city commission would approve the contract with Lexipol, but only a sworn law enforcement officer, the police chief, can adopt the policy manual. 

“We believe this really hits the mark,” Bryant said. 

The AARJ will also be involved in the rewrite process. 

“The identification of Lexipol as a resource and the recommendation to hire Lexipol was carried out by city leadership, and they have shared their reasoning for the choice,” AARJ member Carol Calvert said, speaking on behalf of the leadership team. “We feel positive about Lexipol’s offerings that focus on officer wellness, including mental health support, and supporting officers’ ability to make good decisions under pressure and manage this stressful work safely and effectively.”

She also added that a community member shared an article that raises concerns about Lexipol prior to the meeting, and the AARJ is still reviewing that. 

“We will be sharing the information with city leadership for consideration prior to the vote,” Calvert said. 

The contract is just one tool for reviewing the police department and implementing the pillars of 21st century policing. The execution of the process and the final product is what matters, she added. The 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide was a task force created by President Barack Obama. The 11-member task force created a guidebook of recommendations in 2015.

“AE Leadership is voicing support of the 21st Century Policing guidelines which emphasize trust-building and transparency and a more community-focused policing model, along with enhanced officer training,” Calvert said. “Chief Hess and City Manager Bryant have agreed to our request for increased training around Implicit Bias and are reviewing providers. AARJ would also like to see increased training on De-Escalation, Use of Force Guidelines, Community-Policing and other topics that promote fair and impartial policing.”

Commissioner Lionel Laratte raised some concerns about a lack of public input in the rewrite, the pillars of 21st century policing not being mentioned in the proposal, and there’s no racial bias component to the review. 

Bryant explained that the policy manual the department will have will be customized to Avondale Estates. Adding a racial bias component would be up to the city. 

“We can address any situation we want to within our own policy manual, so those decisions are ours, and ours alone,” Bryant said. “Areas in which there is room for feedback and participation are those areas where we’re going to work in tandem with the AARJ.”

“Community policing policies will certainly be a large portion of this manual,” Bryant added. 

The city has also agreed with the AARJ on other community policing strategies, like quarterly meetings between the officers and the public, as well as listening sessions to hear from residents and visitors about their experiences with policing in Avondale.

“We believe the community listening sessions that are being planned with the AEPD will be a good opportunity for community members to talk directly with our police officers and to express their views, experiences and concerns,” Calvert said. “We recognize that Avondale Estates policing has and has had an impact on many people and we want to reduce negative impacts and increase the positive impact. We have recommended that the listening sessions be moderated by an experienced consultant.”   

Lexipol won’t provide any training for the city’s police officers. They will solely help the city with writing policy. Every policy that addresses state and federal law will have to be in the manual, but there are things the city can add, Bryant said.

“We are very much conscious of ensuring that our procedures are aligned with the mission of the department going forward, which is to achieve all of the pillars of the 21st century policing model,” he said.

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