Elizabeth McLoughlin: A proposal for citizen-led examination of Brattleboro Police Department

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Tonight I will present a suggested path for an examination of the Brattleboro Police Department (BPD) to my fellow Select Board members and the public. When I cast my vote to pass the municipal budget last month, I stated that I want an examination of the BPD. Therefore, what I propose is a citizen led committee to review the police department's policies, practices, training and budget. Just as I acknowledge my own privilege of having the benefit of living in Brattleboro as a white woman, that privilege extends to not knowing what a person of color experiences in Brattleboro and in particular in interactions with the BPD. I welcome this examination because Black Lives Matter in Brattleboro.

Nationwide, we see appalling racism within policing, both overt individual racism and systemic racism. We might be tempted to say, in Brattleboro, well, that can't happen here. Others may have quite a different experience. Let's not guess or assume, let's find out. I am asking my fellow citizens to volunteer to form this examination committee. Citizens will examine our police department to see if or where racism exists and use national criteria to benchmark this process.

I believe we need a police department, as Brattleboro has real crimes and violence in our midst, including hate motivated crimes. There are hard things that we ask of our police. And police officers are members of our community, too. That they protect us is important; how they go about it is important too. Let's make sure the BPD is a reflection of who we are as a community.

Our community has a host of people who are currently working on issues of race and equity and fairness in our community — good people with training and expertise and lived experience. This citizen committee will have moderators and facilitators also chosen in public. The goal is to convene a moderated committee to examine the BPD based upon the Campaign Zero Solutions criteria. I encourage reading about Campaign Zero at https://www.joincampaignzero.org/solutions.

Included in this plan are listening sessions for people who may be uncomfortable with engaging with the police directly. Policy statements and a training course for the BPD based upon this work will move us forward. Implementation of new policies, operations and/or budget decisions will be determined at public meetings by the Select Board, Town Manager and/or BPD. Changes to BPD budget, increased funding for restorative justice, and/or non-profit social service agencies are to be determined by the Select Board and Representative Town Meeting.

The potential for expanding collaboration between non-profit agencies and the BPD into areas of policing beyond opioid use is an important part of the conversation. Let's hear their perspective on police practices. What might these agencies do with more money? What tasks currently performed by the BPD might be undertaken either in partnership with social services or only by social services? Can restorative justice programs be expanded?

I am sincerely grateful to the people of Brattleboro who would commit to this process. This is an opportunity for Brattleboro to do better and build community. We should not be afraid to look at ourselves and do this hard work. When Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living," I am sure he was talking about Brattleboro, Vermont.

Elizabeth McLoughlin is vice chair of the Brattleboro Select Board. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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