Balancing Community Safety and Family Privacy

By Julie McCay Turner

Image (c) Christine E. Smith, 2018 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

The challenging balance between community safety and privacy in situations of family crisis or domestic violence came into sharp focus in Bedford on Sunday, February 3.

Though the incident drew regional and national attention on Monday and later in the week, the facts in Bedford on Sunday involved a difficult family situation, a man known to be in crisis and at risk of harming himself.

A Look Back

On Friday morning, Police Chief Robert Bongiorno and Town Manager Sarah Stanton sat down with The Bedford Citizen to talk about the process that the Town followed in this case.

“At no point on Sunday was there a community threat,” said Stanton. The town was responding to a very difficult family situation.

A significant police presence along Concord Road and a State Police helicopter flying over West Bedford for a short time late on Sunday afternoon, returning for another short flight that evening, caught neighbors’ attention.

Those with social media savvy found a post on the Police Department’s Twitter feed that offered few details. Along with a photograph of the man, the tweet said, “In need of assistance if you see this person please call 911 do not approach.” A local Facebook group shared concerns for the family along with speculation and rumors.

As a police department accredited through the non-profit Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission that is modeled on the federal CALEA; Bedford’s accreditation is updated every 3 years. The Bedford Police maintain nearly 100 policies and procedures with the major policies listed on the Town’s website. The major policies are reviewed every year, and the others every 2 years.

“Police helicopters can greatly assist officers on the ground in the case of a missing person,” said Chief Bongiorno in an email. “Obviously, the air unit can cover a lot of ground very quickly and utilize technology such as thermal imaging cameras which enhance a search.

“In Bedford, we utilize a comprehensive risk assessment to determine if we notify the state police air unit. In determining if such a response is viable we look at factors such as weather conditions, risk factors to the missing person, and geographic location.

“On Sunday we activated units of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC),  to include the Incident Management Team (IMT) who assisted in the technical aspects of the search and the use of 3 NEMLEC dogs including the mutual aid assistance of the Concord and Lincoln police departments. I was in constant contact with the NEMLEC Control Chief of the Regional Response Team (RRT) which were placed on standby in the case we needed more officers on the ground to assist in the search.” Click this link to learn more about NEMLEC.

The air wing was limited to a 20-minute search because it was not allowed air space by Massport per FAA regulations. With a longer search, the missing person may have been located earlier.

Immediate stakeholders and public officials including Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills were in direct communication throughout the incident.

Looking Ahead

“Something like this will happen again,” said Chief Bongiorno. “The details may be different, but we want to take this opportunity to share details about our process that the community may not be aware of.”

“If there is ever a threat [to the community],” said Town Manager Stanton, “Information will be shared immediately – following best practice using social media or Reverse 911 Code Red calls.” She went on to remind the community that incidents involving domestic violence, spousal abuse, or sexual assault are private according to law.

Staying Informed and Reaching Out to Learn More

Social media is the fastest way to share information, but regarding the use of social media Town Manager Stanton urged writers to “Take a pause, think of the impact of what gets posted, and how you would feel if the post were about you or your family.”

Domestic Violence

Bedford is no different from other communities: Domestic violence and families in crisis are not unknown to our residents, with most incidents passing unnoticed except by those who are directly involved.

Bedford was an original partner in the Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc. that has grown to include 13 towns-Acton, Boxborough, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Maynard, Lexington, Lincoln, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston, and Hanscom Air Force Base.

In addition to its confidential, toll-free Help Line – 888-399-6111,- DVSN offers an interactive online database of services –

Typo Correction on 2/10/2019: It’s Reverse 911, not Reverse 999, and the Tower at Massport’s L G Hanscom Field is manned by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: or 781-325-8606

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