Bennington hires consultant to assist in BPD reform

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BENNINGTON — The Select Board has voted unanimously to hire Curtiss Reed Jr. to help the town implement community policing reforms within the Bennington Police Department.

Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, is expected to hold a kickoff meeting next week.

While Reed's proposed scope of work will cost $24,700, board Chairman Donald Campbell said during a meeting Monday that "a number of individuals" in town have pledged to donate a total of $20,000 toward that figure.

Essentially, the consultant will work with the town to implement the recommendations of a team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which conducted a four-month review of the BPD and provided a report in April with 25 recommended changes in department policies and procedures.

Last year, Reed helped the town seek proposals from firms and organizations to conduct the review, which led to hiring the IACP.

The primary focus of the recommendations was on improving community policing methods and addressing a perception among some residents who said in a survey they felt marginalized and believe the police cannot be trusted.

Assistance needed

Campbell said board members "don't have a great deal of experience in rolling something like this out, and we need some guidance."

The board sought a proposal from Reed because of his background working with law enforcement agencies and on civil rights issues, Campbell said.

"He is worth every penny," he said. "I have come to trust Curtiss very deeply . He is a man of great depth and even greater commitment."

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Reed's Brattleboro-based organization has worked with 8 of the 14 county sheriff's departments in Vermont and with most of the larger police departments in the state on training or other initiatives.

Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins, who with two other board members are spearheading efforts to implement the IACP recommendations, said Monday, "We all strongly support this proposal."

She, Jeanne Conner and Bruce Lee-Clark met with Reed over the past week to discuss the details of Reed's plan for making department changes possible, Jenkins said.

That involves working with town and police officials and residents in facilitating a workshop for town management and the board, covering community policing-related topics, and facilitating meetings throughout the process.

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The key themes, according to Reed's proposal, include addressing "community-police relationships and trust, legitimacy and procedural justice."

He will facilitate professional development and coaching for the Select Board, town manager, assistant manager, Community Development director, chief of police and a police lieutenant.

Workshops will cover topics like resistance to change theory, mitigating the negative effects of bias, values clarification, and core operational values.

He also will assist in structuring a process for creating two teams of three community members to research types of civilian review boards or commissions and community policing practices in rural communities.

Citizen involvement

Residents who called in comments during the videoconference meeting said their chief concern is that the process involve the community, especially those who feel marginalized.

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Mary Gerisch, of Rights and Democracy, said she would like to see collaboration with community members in revising policies and making other changes in the department, and said transparency during the process is a key.

Told there will be a webpage with information about the process, Gerisch said she would like to see a Facebook page as well, allowing residents to offer comments.

"We certainly need to be informed every step of the way," she said.

Material about the process will be posted on the town website, and local libraries will post information on community policing and related issues, Conner said.

Community organizations also are expected to take part in posting information on websites and in other ways.

Gerisch said she hopes the process includes "more than just experts" in policy or law enforcement procedures, specifically bringing in residents or groups who said they now feel marginalized and distrust the police.

"That was certainly my understanding" of the consultant's intentions, Lee-Clark said.

Jenkins said that those with more specific questions about the implementation process should ask questions of Reed during the kickoff meeting June 24 at 7 p.m.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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