BENNINGTON — An extensive schedule of training for members of the town’s Community Policing Advisory and Review Board will begin Saturday with a day-long session with policing consultant Brian Corr.
“This Saturday will be the first seven of approximately 40 hours of training for the CPARB prior to their first official meeting,” said Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins. “This will be the first time the members will spend time together. We are pleased that Brian Corr will provide this first portion of the training.”
Corr previously worked with a citizen task force group that recommended a format and scope of work for the review board. He is a past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and current executive director of the Police Review and Advisory Board for the city of Cambridge, Mass.
The citizen review board, which was appointed last month by the Select Board, is expected to begin holding regular meetings in late October.
Jenkins added that one of the seven people appointed to the board had to withdraw.
“David Burch let us know that he will not be able to serve on the board at this time,” she said. “We are disappointed not to have his expertise on the board and hope he will reapply at a later date. The CPARB will go forward with six members in this first year.”
Serving on the board are Marsh Hudson-Knapp, Will Greer, Robert Ebert and Jeff Vickers, appointed to terms through June 2024; and Kelly Carroll and Scott Richmond, who will serve terms through June 2025.
Jenkins said the board will elect a chair, vice chair, and recorder at the first official meeting, now set for Oct. 27.
“We are excited to see the CPARB training begin and look forward to this important work getting underway,” she said.
Most of the sessions involve required training prior to an initial board meeting, Jenkins said, and won’t be open to the public.
All of the CPARB training sessions will be held at the Bennington Firehouse, except for two Saturday sessions off-site, the details of which are to be determined.
The first training on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. will be on the topic of civilian review of police departments and will be led by Corr.
On Aug. 25, from 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a session with town counsel Merrill Bent on the state’s open meeting and records law.
On Sept. 8, 12 and 22, the group will receive an overview of the criminal justice system and the Bennington Police Department. All of those sessions will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at the firehouse.
On Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the board members will review the CPARB and its functions with Corr.
On Oct. 20, from 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a “Looking Forward Module” with Corr.
There will also be two ride-along sessions on Oct. 23 and Oct. 30 with Bennington Police.
The Oct. 27 meeting, scheduled from 5 to 7:30 p.m., will start with training with the police department, and then address the board’s initial agenda.
Another training session to address the duties and responsibilities of a review board in Vermont — a joint session with the Select Board with attorney Bent — will be scheduled.
The newly created citizen board will not, at least initially, review complaints lodged against police officers, as had been envisioned by town officials. The Select Board was advised by Bent that a change in the town charter or in state law would be required before the board can delegate its legal authority to review police complaints.
The Select Board has asked area lawmakers to pursue a change in state law for that purpose — a revision other Vermont communities hoping to create a citizen oversight board have also supported.
Other functions of the new board, as proposed by a citizen task force and approved by the Select Board in April, are to work to “improve and strengthen police community relations by creating an environment of trust and transparency.”
The new board is expected 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.”
And the board is to 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.”
“Our town government could not do its work without the dedicated residents who volunteer to serve on our boards and commissions,” town communications coordinator Jonah Spivak said Tuesday. “These residents represent the best of who we are as a community. We especially want to thank those who have agreed to serve on this newest of boards, the CPARB. These caring neighbors who will be officially seated this October will have a lot of work to do. They deserve our thanks and our support.”
PROMPTED BY CRITICISM
The new citizen board is part of an ongoing community policing effort that was prompted by criticism of the police department over its handling of complaints of racially motivated harassment of former Bennington state Rep. Kiah Morris, who is African American. She left office in 2018 and has since moved to the Burlington area.
The Select Board retained a team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2019 for a study of the BPD policies and procedures. The consultants recommended in a 2020 report a public examination of department policies and advised creating a citizen review board.
Police Chief Paul Doucette has defended the department’s investigation into the complaints by Morris and her family. He also has said he supports the town’s community policing efforts, and Select Board members say the department is committed to the process.