Campbell explains donations for police consultant

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Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:28 p.m. on June 18, 2020.

BENNINGTON — Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell offered further detail Wednesday about donations pledged to support town efforts to reform Bennington Police Department policies and procedures.

Campbell announced during a board meeting Monday that individual donors had pledged $20,000 toward hiring Curtiss Reed help the town implement community policing-related changes recommended in a study report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. At the board's request, Reed, the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity in Brattleboro, had submitted a proposal, which the board unanimously approved during the meeting.

The total cost for the six-month initiative was estimated by Reed at $24,700, including $3,000 for two citizen teams to research options for police department oversight groups and for community policing approaches in rural police departments.

On Tuesday, resident Mike Bethel said he was not satisfied with the brief explanation Campbell offered at the meeting about the donations and their source, which were not specified.

"I want to know how they raised $20,000 in such a short time," Bethel said. "And who told them to do that?"

He said that as far as he knows "there was no dialogue about this [on the board]. Where's the transparency?"

Foundation gifts

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Responding to the Banner, Campbell said in an email, "When I realized that the cost of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity work could be a barrier to the town engaging in this work, I reached out to a private, non-profit, Vermont-based, community-development foundation for help. They aggregated anonymous donations from Bennington County area people who agreed the work is important. By design, neither I nor any of the town staff know who the individual donors are."

He added, "There are no strings attached to this gift except that we use it to fund this police reform effort with Curtiss Reed. Again, this was a response to a direct request for help from me, a consummate penny-pincher who watches budgets and hates to see property taxpayers feel unduly burdened, because this work is critical for Bennington and it should not be forsaken simply because it does not fit in the town budget. We are extremely lucky to have generous community members who believe in Bennington and support our efforts to build an ever-better community, whoever they are."

Campbell said the funds will come directly to the town and be restricted to the one use.

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Campbell issued a further clarification on Thursday, saying, "In response to the question of how the [Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity] work contribution will be coming to the town of Bennington, there is no need for secrecy. It is the Vermont Community Foundation, a good friend to Bennington County."

He added, "Because donors were solicited by them and without our involvement other than a request for financial help, I did not see a need to name the foundation directly until now. VCF is an amazing force for good in Vermont and we can all be glad and openly happy about their support of our efforts."

Kickoff meeting

Reed plans to launch the initiative with town officials and residents with a videoconference meeting on Wednesday, June 24, at 7 p.m.

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Last year, Reed helped the town seek proposals from firms and organizations to conduct a review of police policies and procedures, which led to hiring the IACP in August.

The primary focus of the 25 recommendations from the IACP team was on improving community policing methods and addressing a perception among some residents who said in a companion survey they felt marginalized and believe local police cannot be trusted

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

Workshops planned for Bennington officials will cover topics like resistance to change theory, mitigating the negative effects of bias, values clarification, and core operational values. There will also be community meetings.

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

His complete proposal to the Select Board can be found on the town website.

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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