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Community Safety Review – Early thoughts

Editor of the Reformer:

At over 200 pages the “Final Report on the Community Safety Review Process” for Brattleboro is now out and it is massive to get one’s arms and thoughts around. I have not read it all by any means, though I have read some sections in detail. I did (via Zoom) sit in on the Jan. 5 Select Board meeting where co-coordinators Shea Witzberger and Emily Megas-Russell presented the report for two hours, which was followed by another hour of initial discussion. The Select Board will be taking this report up again one or more times during the rest of January. Some of what goes into the warning for March’s Town Meeting will likely be depend on those discussions.

I found listening to Shea and Emily explain the report to be more helpful than reading the report itself. Despite the wealth of information across many subject areas (police, Department of Children and Families, mental health supports, racism, bias against queer and trans people, community supports), the two are smart enough to keep repeating key themes, until we get it.

I found reading the report much more daunting, and also more confusing. The project needed to be done by Dec. 31, and the effort could have used one more good edit. More importantly, some of the language used – particularly in the mental health field – I found unfamiliar, and so I didn’t get it so well. Most problematically, I don't think the Executive Summary did a good job of summarizing. My number one recommendation at this point is that Shea and Emily produce an improved summary.

Such a new section would I think be helpful to the Select Board in their deliberations, though I'm guessing all five of them will read the entire report, and will have more opportunity to query. Maybe more importantly, such a new summary would be helpful for Town Meeting Members. It’s very probable some important votes will depend on clear understanding of the safety report. There may be adjustments to the police department budget. Also, the related Human Services budget will likely be dissected at length.

The current Executive Summary gets off to a reasonably good start, though going awry a bit with some language challenges. What are “other involuntary interventions”? What does “Consistently across all areas of listening, poverty, homelessness, lack of belonging, and lack of ability to meet basic needs” mean? I did eventually (I think) figure out the latter, but not yet the former.

The bigger drawback about the summary is that it does not even try to summarize the recommendations. Explanation of the recommendations is in the body of the report and runs 16 pages. I don’t think the average Town Meeting Member will be reading the whole report. I do think the average Town Meeting Member needs to (and wants to) understand the key recommendations.

So, a new summary section (five pages?) will be most helpful. Even without this, however, I will keep tuning in. This is an awfully important report that the committee and Shea and Emily put together, with an awful lot of tough stuff in it. Kudos, because they pulled off an enormous job.

Michael Bosworth

Brattleboro, Jan. 8

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