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Towns across the U.S. have started reckoning with police violence. Public officials are beginning to place legal limits on the use of force by police. Demands for, and resistance to, defunding or dismantling the police will pose challenges to communicating constructively: feelings of frustration will be vented both by those who have felt targeted by police and those who support the existing policing system. But we must not miss this chance to establish a creative, collective process to envision a broader approach to community safety and policing.

We need a systemic response to police violence - it's not just about "bad cops" or the need for more training. To reform or replace policing born in a culture of domination and weapons, we need to leverage our resources: community justice centers, social service and mental health professionals, equity committees, and new approaches to training that share the expertise available across our community, including in the police department.

We have fine community justice centers across southern Vermont - underutilized and operating on shoestring budgets. Their restorative justice practices emphasize repairing harm over punishment. They support the reintegration of formerly incarcerated people and lead restorative practices training in schools. Children can learn to repair harm done between two people and to restore relationships stressed by the inevitable conflicts in life. Restorative justice is a trauma-sensitive mindset that can be integrated community-wide.

We hear calls for more police training, yet effective training needs to go beyond providing information to include reflecting on prior experience and testing new approaches. Restorative justice practitioners, social service providers, and law enforcement can train each other by sharing what they have learned from facing volatile situations.

Dialogues should include relevant town departments, organizations, and citizens, as well as police. They can assess how we can better meet needs, repair harm, prevent violence and be held accountable.

Communities in conflict can build collective problem-solving wisdom through dialogue, even with enemies. Our community can do this. Public forums on policing can become hostile, each side demonstrating tone deafness to the lived experiences of the other. We need to establish inclusive, respectful communication processes that bring together diverse perspectives to reimagine community safety.

To improve community safety, we need creative responses gleaned from skilled practitioners. By listening in dialogue to a range of insights, we can strategize who gets called in to manage various crises, and how to support each responder as best we can.

To develop the best practices and novel approaches for community policing, we need constructive dialogue from multiple perspectives. Our towns need to step up at this moment and do our part for racial justice.

John Ungerleider leads restorative practices in schools with Greater Falls and Brattleboro Community Justice Centers, teaches courses at CCV, Brandeis and VT Law School, and facilitates domestic violence accountability and parenting programs for male offenders. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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