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LPD takes proactive approach on use of force

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By Wesley Gardner
LPR Editor

The Lockhart Police Department discussed its policies and practices at a Tuesday, July 21 meeting of the Lockhart City Council.
In light of recent national events and with respect to the 2014 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was created to strengthen community policing and trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, Lockhart police prepared a detailed presentation that addressed how the department’s policies and practices compare with national trends in law enforcement.
“It is a cause for concern when any segment of the community lacks confidence or trust in our public safety services,” Lockhart City Manager Steven Lewis said. “Our goal is to build meaningful, sustainable, trusting and effective working relationships.”
The presentation, titled “Police Practices and Response to Resistance (RTR)” includes a report on the Lockhart Police Department’s Response to Resistance policy, which was updated in 2019.
“The use of force in response to resistance by law enforcement requires constant evaluation and is a serious responsibility,” Lockhart Chief of Police Ernest Pedraza said. “The purpose of this policy is to provide officers with guidelines on objectively reasonable response to resistance.
“While there is no way to specify the exact amount or type of objectively reasonable force to be applied in any situation, each officer is expected to use these guidelines to make such decisions in a professional, impartial and objectively reasonable manner.”
To see the full presentation and read the full Response to Resistance policy, visit https://www.lockhart-tx.org/page/police_policies.
In other business, councilmembers approved a new incentive program aimed helping the Lockhart Police Department hire certified police officers as opposed to bringing in additional cadets.
Through the program, certified police officers will now be offered a $5,000 incentive package if they remain with the department for two years, up from the $3,000 currently offered.
Should officers accept the package, the incentive would be paid out in two installments — $3,000 at the time of hire and $2,000 after the successful completion of the department’s field training program.
Officers who accept the incentive and fail to stay on for two years will be required to pay the department back in full.
District 2 Councilmember Kara McGregor questioned whether new officers being given higher incentives than existing officers might impact morale around the department.
“When you increase an incentive on the front end, I always think of our existing officers on the back end,” said McGregor.
Capt. Jesse Bell said that of the 23 existing officers at the department, only 10 of them were offered the $3,000 incentive previously approved by the city.
McGregor also asked what the department was doing to retain its current officers.
Bell noted that the department is still waiting on the results of a compensation study authorized by councilmembers last year that would address officer retention.
“[The study] has been delayed because of Covid,” said Bell. “The consultant did have some challenges getting information from other cities, but the project will wrap up in another month.”
District 4 Councilmember Jeffry Michelson questioned whether the city should increase the incentive package because officers often end up leaving shortly after the two-year period.
“It seems like we’re offering that extra money, and I know we’re a steppingstone, but we train them, then we lose quite a few of them for various reasons,” said Michelson.
Bell noted that of the 10 existing officers who were accepted the previous incentive package, six of them are still with the department and have been there for more than five years.
Councilmembers ultimately approved the measure.

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