By Bryn McCarthy
Local law enforcement in Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County are optimistic that no conflict will occur over the three-day weekend of Lee-Jackson Day and MLK Day in January, but have begun preparing for trouble nonetheless.
Lexington Police Chief Sam Roman said he has partnered with “state agencies and law enforcement friends in the area” to ensure that they are as prepared as possible for any potential trouble. The violent clashes in Charlottesville in August, around the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, have heightened concern here for the traditional parade planned by a Confederate heritage group on Saturday, Jan. 13, and another one held two days later by a local anti-racism group.
Local law enforcement agencies are using a game plan created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the years following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The plan, called the Incident Command System (ICS), aims to create a temporary unified system of authority, communication, vocabulary and training to quickly override the normal differences between local, state and federal law and emergency responders, as needed for a major disaster or riot.
“By using the Incident Command System we can really plan for the event,” Roman said. “When you use that system you are pretty much prepared for absolutely nothing happening and the absolute worst happening and everything in between.”
Necessary steps to ensure that the system is successful include organization, anticipation, proper delegation of authority, and the establishment of local support operations.
The Lexington police department will use this system, along with help from the Buena Vista Police Department, to ensure that parades in January go smoothly.
Buena Vista Police Lt. Randy Chittum is helping to facilitate discussions with the Lexington Police Department about MLK Day and Lee-Jackson Day.
He said his department supports the Lexington Police Department because they have a Mutual Aid Agreement, in addition to ICS planning, with everyone in the county. The Lexington Police Department, along with the sheriff of Rockbridge County, will spearhead any preventative measures or training to prepare for January, but “we would all be liaisons and support to them [Lexington police].”
Rockbridge County Sheriff Chris Blalock could not be reached, but neither Lexington police nor Buena Vista police have done any additional riot training in preparation for January at this point. But they do both routinely review the anti-riot training taught in the police academy.
“It is very foundational, so sort of like riding a bike,” Roman said. “Once you learn it, you know it. It’s just a matter of reviewing the formations, acclimating and making sure that you are very familiar with those things.”
Anti-riot training generally includes knowing different formations to move a crowd in a certain direction, knowing how to insert yourself into a crowd of people, or knowing how to extract someone from a crowd.
“There are very different formations depending on what you’re trying to achieve,” Roman said.
A reason for optimism
Lexington City Manager Noah Simon confirmed that while no additional anti-riot training is currently taking place, officer training occurs “all the time.”
Roman does not foresee conflict because the MLK Day parade went smoothly last year, and additional measures have been taken this year to ensure that everything runs smoothly. These measures include separating the parades by two days, confining each parade to certain streets, limiting the hours of each parade, reviewing the ICS and anti-riot training, and using a new parade permitting process.
“I may be accused of being optimistic, but I do not see the need to use that [anti-riot training],” he said. “But, of course, my philosophy is that it’s always better to have it [training] and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
Roman said he has already begun preparing for January by reaching out to not only the Lexington police department’s traditional partners, but also the “unconventional partners, like the hospital, to make sure that we’re all on the same page and all thinking alike.”