Police review report to be presented Monday

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BENNINGTON — Consultants who undertook a comprehensive review of Bennington Police Department practices and procedures will unveil their assessment report Monday in a video presentation.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police team's report will be shown at 6 p.m. on local cable network CAT-TV and streamed on the CAT-TV Facebook page.

A release issued Wednesday afternoon said the presentation will summarize the findings and recommendations of the assessment and provide contact information and instructions regarding how viewers can submit questions, comments and concerns about the assessment to the IACP.

The contact information and instructions will also be posted on the Bennington town website.

The presentation will be followed later by a live videoconference hosted by the Select Board on May 4 at 6 p.m.

At that time, the four-person team will answer questions and address comments and concerns submitted to IACP after the April 20 presentation.

The May 4 board meeting will conclude with a call-in question and answer period for the IACP team.

Recommendations

Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell said it is anticipated that future meetings will be held by the board to allow public comment and to discuss implementation of the recommendations contained in the assessment.Campbell said Wednesday that the format of the presentation and the follow-up session is necessitated by distancing requirements during the coronavirus epidemic, but that could lead to a more thorough consideration of the assessment details.

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"I am glad that people will be able to watch it again, if they want," he said.

A recording of the presentation will be made available online after the Monday session, and a link will be provided on the town website.

"I think the Select Board is going into this with an open mind," Campbell said, adding that "we need to keep our antenna up," concerning both the assessment and the comments and reactions of residents.

He said he believes board action to accept some or all of the consultants' recommendations about BPD policies and procedures will be discussed and voted on at subsequent meetings after the May 4 session.

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Began in September

The review had been suggested in the wake of former Bennington state Rep. Kiah Morris' decision in 2018 to end her re-election campaign, when she and others were critical of the department for not making any arrests concerning her complaints of racially motivated harassment and threats.

The four-person team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police was hired in August by the Select Board and held a kickoff presentation in September. They said the study would involve two extended visits to Bennington to gather input from residents and local groups and organizations, as well as to meet with BPD officers and local officials.

Included were initiatives to gather comments from residents and groups and collect survey responses, both during public meetings and forums and in ways that designed to protect the identity of those providing comments or registering complaints.

The Select Board first worked with Curtis Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity, to develop and issue a request for proposals to conduct the assessment. The IACP study proposal was selected from several submitted.

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The nonprofit IAPC, which has some 30,000 members in 150 countries, is considered a leader in the field of law enforcement review and the development of law enforcement training materials.

James Baker, of Arlington, a former Vermont State Police trooper in the area and later VSP director, is one member of the team. He also has served as the Vermont Police Academy director and as police chief in Manchester and in Rutland. Baker current is serving as interim director of the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Baker also has worked with the nonprofit IAPC's executive staff at the organization's main office in Alexandria, Virginia.

Other team members are Jessie Lee, the study's lead subject matter expert, who also has worked for IACP and with the U.S. Justice Department, and is a former executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; Jennifer Nwachukwu, associate counsel with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, working on voting rights and hate crime issues; and Catherine Cruz, the IACP project coordinator.

Visits to Bennington by the team were conducted in October and November while the process of gathering comments and information was on-going.

The review was first proposed by Attorney General T.J. Donovan and others after criticism in early 2019 of the BPD for making no arrests after repeated complaints from Morris of online harassment and threats.

Morris abandoned her campaign for re-election to a third term in the Vermont House in August 2018, citing harassment and threats that had begun during the 2016 campaign season and picked up again during the 2018 campaign.

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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