cop board named
Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BENNINGTON — The appointment of seven members to the new Community Policing Advisory Review Board highlighted a slate of town appointments approved by the Select Board.

Named to the new board were Marsh Hudson-Knapp, Will Greer, Robert Ebert and Jeff Vickers, all to terms through June 2024; and David Burch, Kelly Carroll and Scott Richmond, who will serve terms through June 2025.

Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said a schedule for required prior training sessions for the new board members is still being finalized. They are expected to begin meeting in October.

DUTIES OUTLINED

The purpose of the new board, according to a format developed by a citizen task force and approved by the Select Board in April, is to work to “improve and strengthen police community relations by creating an environment of trust and transparency.”

The review board is expected to increase levels of community collaboration with the Bennington Police Department, working with the police to understand the needs of the community, and by “unifying police with community sectors and organizations in shared visions and work.”

The board will also assist by “identifying and rectifying biases through training and supervision” and “increasing public awareness about the police work and by supporting the well-being of officers.”

COMPLAINT OVERSIGHT

But at least at the beginning, the new entity will not review complaints lodged against police officers. That had been an intent of the Select Board before members were advised by town counsel that a change in the town charter or in state law would be required for the board to delegate its legal authority to review such complaints.

The Select Board is asking Bennington area lawmakers to pursue a change in Vermont law for that purpose — a section other communities seeking to establish a citizen oversight board also have supported amending.

The new citizen board members include Hudson-Knapp, who served on the task force that developed the new board’s proposed format; Greer, a Bennington College student who also is running for the post of Bennington County High Bailiff in the Democratic Primary; Ebert, a member of the town Planning Commission; Vickers, a former Bennington Fire Department chief; Burch, a teacher at Mount Anthony Middle School; Richmond, who works in information technology services, and Carroll, who has been involved in promoting safety and other improvements along the Walloomsac River Walk, after her daughter, Emily Hamann, 26, was killed on the walkway in 2021. Defendant Darren Pronto is facing first-degree murder charges in Bennington Superior Court in the slashing death.

QUESTIONS RAISED

Contacted on Tuesday, Mia Schultz, of Bennington, president of the regional branch of the NAACP, said in an email, “I am not clear on the specific demographics of this board, but it should include representation from BIPOC, LGBTQIA, people with disabilities, including mental health issues, economically disadvantaged and those with experience with substance abuse disorder. I don’t know that the chosen board has completely addressed the necessary perspective to be effective.”

The NAACP and the ACLU of Vermont recently criticized the Bennington police oversight effort in a letter to town officials, contending the new board will require authority to review complaints against police to be effective.

Jenkins replied that the Select Board’s intent was to give the advisory review board that authority but it learned this spring a change in Vermont law or a town charter change would be required to legally delegate to the citizen board. The town is pursuing a revision of state law through area state lawmakers, she said.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

Schultz said Tuesday, “An effective ‘police review board’ or citizen’s oversight committee should definitely reflect the community. Bennington is more diverse than ever. That means the members should consist of a wide array of representation, especially from marginalized communities, who are often more impacted than other populations. Without that, the perspectives to make this a successful board are missing.”

Any lack of wider representation, she said, is “likely attributed to a lack of true and genuine outreach to all impacted communities in a meaningful way that centers their humanity and gives them power to make true change.”

EFFORTS DEFENDED

Resident Clark Adams, who served on the task force that recommended the review board format to the Select Board, spoke during the meeting Monday, calling the critical NAACP-ACLU letter “nothing more than a hit job.”

He added, “I never heard one word from the ACLU or the NAACP during this process.”

Adams said he also has “never seen any evidence” of mistreatment of some town residents by Bennington police alluded to in the letter.

“It was character assassination of the community and the people who are trying to do good things,” he said.

Jenkins and other board members said they are “frustrated” by the criticism, but will work with anyone interested in the town’s community policing efforts.

MILESTONE STEP

The appointment of the citizen board represents a milestone in an ongoing community policing effort that was prompted by criticism of the Bennington Police Department in 2019 over its handling of complaints of racially motivated harassment of former Bennington Rep. Kiah Morris, who is African American.

After Morris ended her campaign for a third term in 2018, she was critical of the the department for its response to the complaints. She and her family have since moved to the Burlington area.

BPD Chief Paul Doucette defended the department’s investigation into the complaints. He has said he supports the town’s community policing efforts, and Select Board members say the department is “fully onboard” in the process.

In 2019, the Select Board retained a team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police for a study of the BPD, which recommended in its 2020 report a public review of department policies and advised creating a citizen review board.

OTHER APPOINTMENTS

Other residents appointed to town boards or posts on Monday were: Jane Raddochia, Dan Malmborg and Ron Hachey to the Development Review Board; Sharyn Brush to the Housing Authority; Evan Yadeski and Nick Lasoff to the Planning Commission; Mary Rogers and Chris Bates to the Energy Committee; Planning Director Daniel Monks to the Bennington County Regional Commission; Carol L. Holm and Peter Green to the Board of Listers; Jenkins as nonvoting liaison to the Bennington Free Library; and Bruce Lee-Clark and Sarah Perrin as nonvoting select board liaisons to the Better Bennington Corp.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


TALK TO US

If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us.
We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.