A new board will take a closer look at citizens’ experience with Bennington Police

Members of the Bennington Community Policing Review Advisory Board held their second formal meeting on Thursday, November 17 at the Bennington Fire Station. Screenshot

The Bennington Community Policing Review Advisory Board has kicked off, laying out initial plans to learn more about residents’ experiences with city policing.

The six-member council of civilians on Thursday formed an internal committee for community outreach. It aims to gather information about residents’ interactions with the Bennington Police Department, with some reporting adverse experiences with the agency.

Board member Robert Ebert suggested seeking advice from local social service organizations, such as a counseling centre, the coalition for the homeless and the region’s largest food pantry. , on their client’s relationship with the police. He would like to confirm or refute the findings of a 2019 International Association of Chiefs of Police survey, where more than a third of respondents expressed distrust of the Bennington Police Department.

“If we validate this data and find out that there is the situation here, then maybe we can think of ways to improve,” Ebert said.

The police review advisory board is part of an ongoing effort to reform the Bennington Police Department, which began after the agency came under fire for mishandling the state representative’s harassment. era, Kiah Morris, the second black woman to serve in the Vermont Legislative Assembly.

The Bennington City Government engaged the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2019 to conduct a comprehensive review of the police department’s policies and community relations. Among the association’s findings was that the officers portrayed a “warrior mentality”, which caused mistrust within some segments of the community.

The association made several recommendations, including that Bennington consider establishing a community advisory council to build residents’ confidence in the city police.

The Community Policing Review Advisory Board was created in April, but without the oversight powers the city’s selection committee had originally envisioned. The Review Advisory Committee held its first formal meeting last month, where members debated whether they wanted Bennington Police to attend their meetings.

At her Thursday meeting, council chairwoman Kelly Carroll clarified that the city’s resolution establishing the group was for Police Chief Paul Doucette or his designate to attend all council meetings. Bennington selection committee member Tom Hailey would serve as liaison with the selection committee.

During meetings of the review advisory committee, the police representative may speak at the public consultation and answer questions from committee members. But Bennington Police should request a place on the meeting agenda if they wish to present a report or give a longer speech.

A motion to automatically include the police at monthly council meetings failed, with three votes against, one vote in favor and two abstentions.

“I’m really wary of having too much police presence at our regular meetings,” Ebert said ahead of the vote. “They are here as a resource for us.”

Meanwhile, Bennington Selection Committee Chair Jeannie Jenkins said city officials still want the review advisory committee to have oversight powers when complaints are filed against Bennington police. Currently, according to the city attorney, Vermont law only allows the chief of police, city manager and selection committee members to perform this role.

Until state law changes—or Bennington amends its municipal charter—civilian oversight of the Bennington Police Department’s internal investigations rests with the Selection Committee.

“We are always looking for ways to provide expanded access” to review advisory board members, Jenkins said in an interview. “At this point, I think we’re in a slight waiting pattern until we know what’s possible.”

She said the city has asked state lawmakers for help and is waiting for the next legislative session to begin in January.

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