H.B. Lozito: Minutes reflect little communication between police and community
As a former member of the Citizen Police Communication Committee (CPCC) from 2011-2013, I have been interested in learning what the Committee has been up to recently. I have been involved in an online conversation with Select Board member Tim Wessel and many community members, as conversations about policing's role in community health and safety have been happening, locally and nationally.
Tim recently put out some information he gained directly from Brattleboro Police Department Chief Mike Fitzgerald, which sparked my desire to look back at recent CPCC meeting notes and agendas to see if reality aligned with the information being presented. On June 12, 2020, when I went to the CPCC website on the town of Brattleboro page, clicked through to 2020 Minutes & Agendas, I discovered that the CPCC has met possibly one time this year. On the website, it indicates that they canceled both the scheduled January and February 1 meetings; did not schedule March, April, or May meetings; and canceled the June 1 scheduled meeting. There is an agenda posted for a June 22 meeting but not yet any accompanying notes.
OK, this has been a strange year! What did the CPCC do, according to the public minutes, in 2019?
The information Tim recently shared from Chief Fitzgerald says, "[a] member from the PD attends every meeting as a representative of the department and to be available for any questions or clarification." Again, on June 12, 2020, when I downloaded and read through the 2019 minutes, I found that according to the website, there were eight meetings held in 2019 (two canceled meetings in January and April; none scheduled in May or December). And that according to the minutes, only three of those had a member from BPD present (twice Captain Mark Carignan, once Chief Fitzgerald).
In Tim's recent OpEd ("Brattleboro police are here to protect and serve," June 10), he said "To BPD's credit, the CPCC has not received many complaints in the last few years." Of the eight meetings that were held in 2019, six mentioned complaints. Those meetings were in March, June, August, September, October, and November, 2019. At the November 25, 2019 meeting, a person wanted to bring a complaint forward, was present in-person at the meeting during the public participation portion and was told the CPCC meeting was not the place to bring their complaint but that they should talk directly to the chief (who was also listed as being in attendance at this meeting). If the primary stated purpose of the Committee is to "facilitate mutually respectful communication between citizens and the Brattleboro Police Department ..." but when a community member brings a complaint to the Committee, is turned away, what function are they actually serving?
There does seem to be some discrepancy among statistics here. My guess (based on my experience as a CPCC member) is that Tim is referring to officially lodged complaints. My understanding is that a complaint only is counted as part of official totals, if a form is filled out by the complainant and filed directly with the police, although I'm not sure at what point a complaint is counted in Tim's estimation here of "not many." My read-through of the 2019 minutes show three instances (September, October, and November, 2019) where the minutes reflect "none," in the "Compliments & Complaints" section of the minutes although just above in the public participation section, members of the public are sharing complaints about BPD.
Again, if we want a group of non-police community members to provide accountability for our police department, we should have that. That purpose is not currently being served by the CPCC. Additionally, the explanations of how the group is intended to function, including directly from the chief, are far from the reality illustrated by the group's own minutes.
H.B. Lozito writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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