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Newton Police Chief John Carmichael puts focus on community engagement

Newton Police Chief John Carmichael.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

During his first five months on the job, Newton Chief of Police John Carmichael said he has worked to implement “community-oriented policing” and listen to the needs of the community and the police department.

“We want to make sure we’re establishing strong bonds with the community so they feel that they can have confidence in us and trust us,” Carmichael said.

Since taking the job, Carmichael said he has started to work on the department’s community engagement plan, which will lay out different ways they can have face-to-face conversations with the community and engage the public.

Leo, a golden retriever puppy just a few months old, is part of the community engagement plan. As the police department’s community resource dog, Leo will be specially trained as a service dog to help with social-emotional learning, critical incidents, people dealing with traumatic situations and mental health calls, Carmichael said.

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Another facet of the community engagement plan is “positive tickets.” When a Newton police officer encounters a youth doing something positive, like wearing a bike helmet, the child receives a redeemable voucher for a treat from one of the local businesses partnering with the department.

“You look at these pieces of paper, and each one of those represents a positive encounter that the police had with youth in the community,” Carmichael said.

In an e-mailed statement, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said, “Chief Carmichael is leaning in and working hard on addressing longstanding, systemic issues that are facing police departments across our country, from hiring more diverse officers to bolstering community policing.”

To address systemic issues facing the police department, Carmichael is working to implement 21st Century Policing in Newton. President Barack Obama created the 21st Century Policing Presidential Task Force in 2014 to build trust among citizens and law enforcement officers to create an environment of mutual respect where all are invested in maintaining public safety, according to the task force’s May 2015 final report.

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For 21st Century Policing, “the biggest thing is procedural justice, police legitimacy, the police trying to demonstrate to the community that we want to be just, we want to be fair, we want to be impartial,” Carmichael said.”The community policing philosophy itself embraces the fact that the community should have input in setting the police agenda.”

Carmichael previously instituted 21st Century Policing at the Walpole Police Department, where he worked for 25 years, including five years as chief of police. He said he came to Newton for the “new challenge” the Newton Police Department would bring.

“In Walpole I felt that I had accomplished all of my goals,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael is the “right person, at the right time to lead the Newton Police Department,” Fuller said in an e-mailed statement.

Richard Kelleher, Walpole’s interim chief of police and deputy police chief under Carmichael, said he was “very progressive.”

“He implemented a lot of changes to have us be more focused on community-oriented policing,” Kelleher said.

While in Newton, Carmichael has worked with the Public Safety and Transportation Committee to communicate and update the public on how the department is working to fulfill the Newton Police Reform Task Force’s recommendations, progress on implementing the state’s Peace Officer Standards Training system, and further plans such as increased community engagement.

Councilor Andreae Downs, chair of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee, said the most noticeable changes since Carmichael was appointed have been “morale and a complete openness to community involvement, community policing and transparency.”

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Newton Police Lieutenant Bruce Apotheker said Carmichael is “the most professional chief” he’s worked for, specifically in “the way he communicates with the department and the community.”

Nora Lester Murad, a member of Defund NPD — a group that has been calling for systemic change in the Newton Police Department — said, “the way that Chief Carmichael laid out that report is extremely problematic because there are no measurable goals,” only “processes.”

As police chief, Carmichael said he has an obligation to communicate with all community groups. “I’m not afraid to go out into the community and talk to people that scrutinize the police or [are] our biggest critics,” Carmichael said.

Katherine Hapgood can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.