Council again updated on APD’s structural reforms

Mad River Union

ARCATA – Discussed at last week’s Arcata City Council meeting were reforms implemented by the Arcata Police Department in response to the inadequate investigation into the killing of David Josiah Lawson. 

A report by the National Police Foundation (NPF) found multiple shortcomings and breakdowns which hampered APD’s investigation of the 2017 stabbing death, and recommended reforms. Available at are both the NPF report as well as a detailed summary by Chief Brian Ahearn of corrective measures both in place and underway at the department. The council had previously been briefed in March.   

“The Arcata Police Department has undergone change within several key areas of Department operations,” states Ahearn’s summary. “The Department’s commitment throughout the entire NPF review process was to use the final report as a roadmap for continued adaptation while not necessarily waiting for the NPF assessment to be completed before implementing best practices and industry standards. Hence, a majority of 33 of the 36 of the NPF recommendations have been implemented. The Department continues to work on a plan to implement the remaining three recommendations.”

Among the reforms are better training for officers and strengthened investigative assets.

A number of restructuring measures were implemented to streamline command and reporting by officers, and to make the department more responsive in investigating incidents of the scale of the Lawson killing. 

As one example, the Investigations Division replaced the Special Services Unit, described as “a mainstay of Department operations for decades whose versatility model no longer met the needs of the community and the organization.” 

Additional capacity was added with the ability to immediately deploy a team of investigative personnel to investigate crimes of violence. An Investigations Division was created to respond 24/7 to any crime. 

Ahearn’s report says that APD is now “better trained, better prepared, more organized in our response and more effective in our utilization of personnel than we were on April 15, 2017. The value of clarifying roles and responsibilities and establishing clear lines of authority and decisionmaking in order to identify, in all incidents, who is in charge, cannot be underestimated.”

In addition, partnerships with Humboldt  State Police and other university stakeholders have also been strengthened. 

Still in progress are further training on community policing, incorporating community policing into the APD performance evaluation process and development of a survey to gauge community sentiment on the performance of the Arcata Police Department. The survey will be completed during the 2020/2021 academic year by Humboldt State student interns.



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