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Police chief pitches hiring California-based firm to help oversee department’s policy updates

Across New York State, in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and widespread civil unrest, police departments of all sizes are tasked with scrutinizing — and modernizing — their policies at the risk of losing state funding.

In Southold, a task force of citizens is already being put together to review police procedures, another requirement included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order.

But Police Chief Martin Flatley says the small department is already stretched thin for time and resources required to draft and update policy.

His solution? Outsource it.

At a work session Tuesday, Chief Flatley pitched hiring Lexipol, a California-based consulting firm that is quickly gaining traction among law enforcement entities in New York.

According to Chief Flatley, the company works to “pick apart” and rewrite department policies to align with state guidelines that are then transferred to a web-based manual. The service also includes training and daily scenario-based testing for officers, which Chief Flatley said only take minutes to complete.

In addition to ensuring compliance with the governor’s executive order, the firm could help streamline the accreditation process currently assigned to Sgt. Scott Latham.

“Instead of us going out and searching for who’s got the best practice or whose got the best policy on this specific topic, Lexipol has all that together already,” Chief Flatley said.

Suffolk County, Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Riverhead are all looking to use Lexipol, along with hundreds more departments in the state, the chief said. “Everybody’s starting to sign on to them,” he said.

On its website, Lexipol primarily markets itself as risk management against potential liability in lawsuits while keeping up with legislative changes and other mandates.

“If your agency or government organization is struggling to get by with ill-fitting policies borrowed from other sources — or gaps where you lack policy guidance entirely — you’re vulnerable to physical, financial and political risks,” the website states. They currently serve more than 3,000 police, EMS and fire departments in 35 states.

The privatization of establishing police policy has been criticized for lack of transparency and public input and some of Lexipol’s policies, specifically regarding the use of force and shooting at moving vehicles, have been called into question by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union.

The company has disputed reports that they discourage de-escalation techniques. According to a document dated August 2020 published by the company, the use of force policy includes a standalone section on de-escalation, requiring officers to use nonviolent strategies.

The Lexipol document acknowledges that shooting at moving vehicles is often “ineffective and dangerous,” but that a complete ban could prevent officers from intervening to save lives in situations where vehicles are weaponized. 

Chief Flatley said the constant training worked into the platform will help keep officers engaged. 

“A lot of times now you hand out a new policy or procedure or something, they look at it real quick, throw it into a binder and it’s the last time they see it,” he said. “[Lexipol] makes them stay current with it and I think every officer wants to be.”

Board members agreed that more information is needed before committing to hiring the company. “Let’s move forward,” said Councilman Jim Dinizio, who is the liaison to the Police Advisory Committee and a strong advocate for accreditation.

“We don’t have to pick this one company but we certainly need to learn what they can do for us,” he said.

The chief estimated startup costs to be $28,000, plus yearly maintenance fees of $13,000. Town officials are anticipating a formal presentation from Lexipol in the coming weeks.