'Operation Copsicle' visits Willow Park

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BENNINGTON - A mobile popsicle truck named "Operation Copsicle" visited Willow Park on Monday to hand out popsicles to young children of the community, an event that initiated bigger conversations about policing during an era of tension and police brutality.

After the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer magnified divides in the nation and touched off large scale movements and protests across the country and around the world, the Bennington Police Department hopes that community outreach events such as "Operation Copsicle" will help create a better relationship between citizens and law enforcement here.

"We decided that a good way to get the community involved and break down barriers would be handing out ice cream and other food," said Officer Scott Legacy, the president of the Bennington Police Association.

"Operation Copsicle" started a year ago when Legacy came to Doucette with his new idea. The first event began with a cooler in the back of a John Deere Gator. From there, the event grew with over 20 local businesses donating to the event.

Local businesses such as Big Boy's Toys, The Pharmacy Inc., Heritage Family Credit Union, Henry's Market, Sunny Side Diner, Southern Vermont Medical Center, and Hayden's Plumbing & Heating, as well as others, donated to cover costs for the program.

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During the event, law enforcement handed out pizza and ice cream to young children and made sure they were having fun.

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"Anything positive that's going on in this community, I think everybody should get involved. We're such a small community so something like this that especially involves kids is important," said donor Matt Willey.

Willey is the owner of local businesses The Avocado Pit, Ramunto's, and The Buck Stop. After hearing about the program he donated a $2,000 freezer as well as ice cream.

Not all are on board with the program. A report compiled by The International Association of Chiefs of Police concluded that some members of the community doubt the intent behind these community outreach programs.

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"Most interactions between BPD and the public are a result of a traffic stop or through several community engagement programs such as the `Copsicle' program. Some community members and stakeholders view these efforts as public relations opportunities for the department rather than events intentionally designed to create a more inclusive community," read the report.

The town is in the midst of efforts to reform Bennington Police Department policies and procedures. The Select Board has hired Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, to help the town implement community policing reforms within the department.

The Bank of Bennington, which donated a trailer to the program, hopes that the small acts of kindness the Copsicle program incorporates will rebuild the trust between the community and law enforcement.

"Particularly now the way things are with the scrutiny on police departments and how they interact with their community, this was the chance to be involved in a positive interaction so really it was an easy decision for us to help them out," said the president of the Bank of Bennington Jim Brown.


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