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Members of the Safe and Equity Task Force are shown during a recent to discuss their recommendations for creating a standing police oversight board. That will go to the Select Board next week.

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BENNINGTON — A citizen task force’s recommendations for a permanent town police review board is expected next week and will be on the agenda of a Select Board meeting Feb. 7.

While revisions could be made before the proposal is delivered Monday to board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins and Vice Chairwoman Jeanne Conner, major aspects of the format are expected to remain unchanged.

The Select Board on Feb. 7 is expected to open a public comment period on the proposal, and the task force group will give a presentation before the board during a special meeting on Feb. 21.

Currently, the plan calls for a town Safety and Equity Board with from five to seven members, who would be appointed by the Select Board and would serve three- or four-year terms that allow for rotating appointments.

No one could serve more than seven years consecutively, but could be reappointed after not serving for three years. The review board would be expected to meet at least once a month.

Qualifications for those seeking appointments will include residency or a “strong, long-time relationship with the town of Bennington.”

No active members of the Bennington Police Department or officers of town government could serve on the board until four years after their service is completed.

STATED PURPOSE

The stated purpose of the new board would be “to improve and strengthen police community relations by creating an environment of trust and transparency.”

This would be done by “rebuilding and sustaining trust: by listening to our community and taking prompt action and by strengthening transparency while guarding confidentiality, and by conducting reviews free from any external influences and control, and by making recommendations.”

The board would work to increase levels of community and collaboration, working with the police to understand the needs of the community; “unifying police with community sectors and organizations in shared visions and work;” 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.”

The board also would work to build accountability by “developing a clear process and timetable for reviewing and investigating complaints, recognizing compliments, and reporting those findings and, by updating policies and procedures to address identified needs, monitoring compliance, and scheduling regular policy reviews.”

‘INDEPENDENT BOARD’

The task force, which was appointed in September by the Select Board, defines the proposed Equity and Safety Board as an independent body “that works in collaboration with the town of Bennington, Bennington Select Board, Bennington Police Department, community partners and the public. The task is to ensure that appropriate training, complaint processes, policies and procedures, data and community relations effectively promote the safety and security of our community.”

The board “will ensure the safety and security of our community” by issuing recommendations concerning police and other training; research into what training is wanted, needed and available to the BPD and to the oversight board; monitoring compliance with Rule 13 compliance regarding police training, and reviewing specifically the sections regarding de-escalation, fair and impartial policing and communication skills.

The board also would support the police concerning challenges regarding the time and money to assure the education can be completed in a timely manner.

In addition, the board would review “police training reports and outcomes and make recommendations about trainings based on community and police needs and feedback, and/or research;” make budget recommendations to the Select Board, concerning the oversight board’s expenses for training; “provide resources like an Inherent Bias Test to broaden self-awareness and stress management tools for self-care; identify availability and use by officers of professional support persons or other kinds of supports in the community.”

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COMPLAINTS, REVIEWS

Concerning complaints against the police, the board would “refer persons requesting assistance in filing complaints as needed;” assure “a way for all citizens to have a method of lodging a complaint other than directly through the BPD;” collaborate with the police “to develop reporting expectations and timelines for complaint reviews;” provide “public education related to filing a complaint, including the difference between, and the expectations for, lodging an informal and a formal complaint.”

The board would review complaints, including looking at records, body-worn camera footage, interviewing witnesses or reviewing other information required to reach a conclusion.

After reviewing a complaint, the board would issue findings and recommendations.

DATA, POLICIES

The board would gather data on the number and nature of complaints; develop and monitor a review and revision process for police policies and procedures, and develop a timeline for the process; act as liaison to the public about policies and procedures; make recommendations on such topics as recruitment and hiring, and areas of community focus; issue a report summarizing its review/revision process; provide input to the town manager for the police chief’s annual review and to the Select Board for the manager’s annual review.

The board also would monitor the Police Department’s data gathering, issue annual reports or special reports as circumstances require and make recommendations based on data trends.

The board would encourage community input and engagement such as by hosting listening sessions, discussion circles, forums or educational sessions with community groups and with the community at large, with or without police participation, based on situation and needs of stakeholders; form subcommittees made of board members, police officers and organization representatives to work on specifically identified issues; act as a resource for community organizations or citizens concerning police relations; and make recommendations on such topics as outreach and public education, handling of mental health crisis, domestic violence, substance use and trauma, and make budget recommendations concerning resources needed by the police and other community organizations.

TRAINING, EXPECTATIONS

Initial and ongoing board member training will be required, with completion of initial training before the person begins serving on the board.

Members would be expected display a high level of objectivity, ability to think in balanced, unbiased ways; be willing to function “independently of influences outside of the board itself;” have a strong commitment to strengthening police-community relationships; and a readiness to help community members be heard.

Also expected would be demonstrated experience in maintaining confidentiality and a willingness to learn being able to communicate effectively.

DIVERSITY SOUGHT

The Select Board would be expected to seek “qualified candidates while seeking diversity in the group’s members, for example by age, gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race, socio-economic status, education (formal and informal), disability or other identity.”

The goal would be to also seek “awareness, experience, and/or training-practice including but not limited to the following: behavioral health; mental health; substance use disorder; domestic violence; skills to review reports and identify trends that will inform board recommendations to, and work with the police; and/or skills with data and statistical analysis mediation and conflict resolution experience; experience with restorative justice; knowledge of the law and judicial system; experiences with policing, both positive and negative; experience with the criminal justice system; experience with discrimination, unequal treatment or preferential treatment.

In addition, application for membership on the board “will be widely promoted, and the Select Board will make appointments.”

After public meetings to discuss the proposal, the Select Board is expected to vote March 28 on the review board format. The new board is expected to be in place by May.

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.


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