Petition withdrawn, policing goals remain

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BRATTLEBORO — Although a petition calling for a referendum on the budget approved by the Select Board was withdrawn, its organizers are still looking at their bigger goal: safer policing practices.

Kurt Daims, director of Brattleboro Common Sense, said he changed his mind about submitting a petition after speaking with town officials. He anticipates upcoming meetings will allow for discussion about safe policing proposals.

Daims counted about 47 citizens at the June 16 Select Board meeting held via teleconference where the budget was approved in a 3-2 vote. Estimating that each person was only given about two minutes to speak about reconsidering the spending plan with an eye toward revising the police budget, he said he feels the board should have scheduled another meeting to discuss the spending plan and proposals from citizens.

The town's budget is usually proposed by town staff then refined with Select Board input before it is considered at annual Representative Town Meeting in March. Special legislative approval was provided to boards this year to adopt budgets as state-imposed restrictions on gathering sizes postponed such meetings.

Daims said the annual meeting usually includes about 140 or 150 Town Meeting members, who can bring proposals forward and make funding decisions. He said he spoke with board members Brandie Starr and Ian Goodnow, who cast the dissenting votes on the budget, and the town attorney before withdrawing the petition.

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Town Attorney Bob Fisher described the petition as "moot and without force and effect." In a memo, he said the town charter allows for a referendum from a final vote on a warned article taken by Representative Town Meeting.

"The vote of the Select Board was pursuant to House 947 [bill] which provided the board with the power to adopt the budget this year, due to the pandemic," he wrote.

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Adam Marchesseault of Waterbury has been involved in Brattleboro Common Sense's safe policing project for about a year. He is mostly focused on the research of the "weapons effect," which says the sight of a weapon can trigger a more aggressive behavior in humans. He also is interested in preventing the escalation of conflict between officers and civilians.

Concealing lethal and nonlethal weapons could be helpful, according to Marchesseault's research. He pointed to models in New Zealand where officers keep weapons in a lock box in their vehicles and only use them in events of "extreme need," and the United Kingdom where officers routinely go out on patrol with no lethal weapons at all.

His interest in the subject comes from what he called "a strong sense of political and moral passion, and enthusiasm for seeing changes happen before our eyes that might actually improve our society."

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"I think that there's a lot of room for change in the way we police to fundamentally improve people's lives on a day-to-day level," he said, adding that he believes policing could be done more efficiently in terms of tax dollars spent and societal benefit.

On Tuesday, the Select Board will be discussing some correspondence it received from local groups regarding policing.

"We'll be discussing the nuts and bolts of how to move forward with a police review," Tim Wessel, board chairman, said in an email response to the Reformer. "At the June 16th meeting we all agreed that it would be good to have a community-wide conversation about the various roles of BPD, in advance of our [fiscal year 2022 budget] discussion that kicks off in the fall, to see how the police budget fits in to the overall budget."

Select Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin is anticipated to discuss moving forward with a review with input from the public.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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