BENNINGTON — The town has hired two three-person teams of local residents to research best practices in community policing and civilian oversight of law enforcement.
Hired as part of an ongoing, consultant-led effort to implement proposed reforms in Bennington Police Department policies and procedures were Katie Berger, Robert Ebert, Alana Harte, Joe Holt, Jeson Li, and Kara Lusa.
The residents, as well as town officials, will be working with Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, in implementing recommended changes in a report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police after a review of the BPD procedures.
The six residents selected based on applications and interviews were chosen from a pool of 15 applicants for the temporary positions.
During their first meeting with Reed, the group discussed the IACP team's report and recommendations, town Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti said in a release.
She said Reed told the residents that the IACP recommendations "provide the perfect opportunity to help the Bennington Police Department move into 21st century policing. The quality of the bibliography that this team collectively puts together can be a model for other police departments across the state."
The citizen research teams will began by sharing key words that will guide their work, such as transparency, trust, respect, cooperation, public communication, accountability, and sustainability, according to the release.
The next steps will be conducting online research and interviewing staff in towns that have some form of civilian oversight or community policing initiative.
The research teams' work product is expected to be completed by mid-August and will include a bibliography of several hundred resources and a summary of their conversations.
An overview of the training can be found on the Bennington town website.
Complaints against officers
On a related topic, a work group of that Select Board, which is coordinating the process of implementing changes based on the IACP recommendations, discussed a draft of a citizen advisory committee protocol for handling complaints against a police officer.
The draft policy is being prepared and reviewed by the work group, consisting of Bruce Lee-Clark, Jeanne Conner and Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins. They said input will be requested from the IACP on some points, and the board now expects to formally vote on the final draft at its Aug. 10 meeting.
The protocol says the Select Board is currently assuming the role of a police review board in considering complaints after an initial review by the chief of police and town manager. That process was followed recently in considering a complaint against BPD officers that the board ultimately dismissed.
One of the key recommendations of the IACP is to create a citizen oversight or advisory board for the BPD, and board members have said they want to implement such a change.
Reed also recently conducted workshop training sessions with members of the town staff. The training began with an exploration of participants' personal experiences with race and then shifted to a larger discussion about tackling racism and bias within the town.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd described the training as "valuable because these discussions helped us expand our thinking and become more united in our message and our mission," according to the release.
Police Chief Paul Doucette said that "working with Curtiss Reed and the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity is helping the town of Bennington and the Bennington Police Department move forward following the review conducted by the IACP," according to the release. "Attending training with Mr. Reed and improving our vision and mission for the town of Bennington is instrumental in our future. I look forward to our continued partnership and working toward achieving common goals."
In addition to discussing issues of implicit bias, the Select Board and staff identified shared values for the town of Bennington:
"Bennington is an engaged, diverse, and resilient community where all contribute to our shared vitality and benefit from an outstanding quality of life," Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell, stated. "These aspirational values will guide us in our work to make the town more inclusive. We need to examine our practices not only in the police department, but in all town departments. That means hiring a more diverse work force, reaching out to minority owned business owners to support their growth, and attracting more people of color to our community. We invite community members to get involved and make Bennington a place where everyone is welcomed and people are thriving."
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien