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Police report, face masks on board's agenda

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BENNINGTON — The Select Board on Monday will continue weighing recommendations from consultants who reviewed the Bennington Police Department policies and procedures.

Also on the board's agenda is a resolution and emergency order to mandate as of June 1 the use of face coverings or shields for customers or visitors to local establishments.

If approved, the mask resolution would be similar to others adopted in Burlington, South Burlington, Brattleboro and Wilmington, after Gov. Phil Scott declined to issued a statewide mandate but allowed municipalities to adopt stricter measures.

Scott did order employees of retail and other businesses to wear face coverings and adhere to distancing requirements issued to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The resolution, as proposed in the board's meeting agenda packet, makes an exemption for children under 5 years, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated — language similar to a resolution passed by the Brattleboro Select Board.

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Updated police policies

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Also in the board's meeting packet are copies of the BPD's policies, including regarding internal department investigations, which were recently updated with help from the consultant team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

In addition, Town Manager Stuart Hurd asked town counsel Robert Woolmington to review the town's general order on internal police investigations, adopted in its current form in February, to address whether it complies with provisions in Vermont Act 56, pertaining to the professional regulation of law enforcement officers.

Woolmington said in a response to Hurd that "the investigation policy adopted by the Bennington Police Department follows the [Criminal Justice Training] Council's model policy virtually word for word."

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The attorney also said that "a subsection of the law [Act 56] requires that the civilian review be performed by 'a select board or other elected or appointed body,'" but added that "there is no requirement in Act 56 for an external committee to perform a civilian review of internal investigation."

There has been, however, strong support voiced among board members and several citizens for a civilian advisory committee or formal oversight commission.

Other updated policies also are included in the Select Board's meeting packet, covering such subjects as the BPD mission statement; primary responsibilities; a code of conduct; use of force, using discretion; conduct in private life; integrity; nepotism and fraternization; hiring, promotions and assignments, and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.

The four-month review by the IACP team produced a report with 25 recommendations for improvement policies and procedures within the department, which had been criticized in early 2019 for not making an arrest concerning complaints of racially motivated harassment and threats filed by former state Rep. Kiah Morris, who ended her campaign for re-election in the fall of 2018.


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