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Citizens submit a process to re-envision public safety

Brattleboro Selectboard will discuss the proposal for an RFP and its implementation at a special meeting on Aug. 6

BRATTLEBORO—A proposal to review how the town provides community safety will go before the Selectboard at a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 6.

The request for proposals (RFP) is designed to create a deep, community-led assessment of safety in town. Once approved, the RFP would seek and fund proposals from facilitators who would design and shepherd this review.

According to the document created by a group of citizens and submitted to the town on Aug. 3, the review will dive into how the municipality uses its resources to fund public safety and if it can provide overall community wellness and safety more equitably.

In an email to The Commons, the group describes itself as “a conglomerate of Brattleboro community members, activists, and social justice organization leaders who have been harmed and/or whose families and friends have been harmed by current systems of public safety (such as, but not only, policing, criminalization, and emergency response).”

“We come from a variety of systematically marginalized perspectives: Black, indigenous, people of color; people with mental health needs; socioeconomically disadvantaged; LGBTQ+ identifying; and more.”

According to the proposed RFP, the assessment will begin with looking at the Police Department and municipal support for nonprofit organizations and social service agencies, as well as identifying any unmet needs.

“This open process will invite in the wealth of knowledge and life experiences that our community holds about police, social services, racism, oppression, and alternatives to punishment and violence,” the proposed RFP explains. “We are working toward a community that is free of white supremacy in all of its manifestations.”

One of the people involved in creating the proposal, Wichie Artu, added that the unnamed group hopes to maintain an ongoing involvement in the process.

He also stressed that “this is not a closed group.” Those with “unheard experiences” and those who feel passionate about the issue are welcomed and encouraged to participate.

Artu said that the group members share a a number of hopes for the process that the facilitators will eventually create, including the desire to see the traditional seat of power transferred from the municipality to the grassroots level during the review process.

The RFP suggests that this happen through the creation of a review committee comprised of “a cross-section of Brattleboro-area residents” with priority given to “the inclusion of individuals from groups who experience more frequent police interactions, are more likely to be harmed in those interactions, and have been engaged in advocacy or activism on these issues.”

Committee members would be compensated.

The review will generate short- and long-term recommendations to go before the Selectboard and Representative Town Meeting, Artu said.

The first set of recommendations would go before the board this November in time for the building of the fiscal year 2022 municipal budget. These recommendations would focus on — but would not be limited to — reallocating the Police Department’s budget.

In March, the facilitator would report to Representative Town Meeting “more comprehensive recommendations for initiatives and next steps, including future phases of this process.”

Artu said the people involved in the collective group process behind the proposed RFP expect that the facilitator and Review Committee’s recommendations will be acted upon rather than stuck on a shelf to gather dust. The group also wants the review process to be open to the public and for the board to communicate its decisions and next steps to the public.

A long process

The proposed RFP grew out of public comments made at multiple Selectboard meetings in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Milwaukee and the ensuing national discussion about policing and race.

At the June 16 board meeting, several community members spoke in favor of changing the Police Department’s budget, perhaps de-funding it completely. The board passed the municipal budget as presented but said it would enter a process to reevaluate public safety spending.

The Selectboard approved the budget this year and not the Representative Town Meeting body, thanks to a special law enacted to allow such approval of municipal budgets during COVID-19-related social distancing.

At the July 21 board meeting, community activists and the board discussed how to move forward with a review of public safety. At the center of the discussion were two proposals.

The first proposal came from the group of community members who have experienced or continue to experience “unsafe situations, and/or those who have and continue to uplift the voices of those who feel unsafe.”

This proposal outlined the need to make a community-wide assessment of safety. This proposal, while focusing on policing, also took a broader view to include creating a safe community and supporting its residents’ overall well-being.

The second proposal for an RFP came from Selectboard Vice-Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin.

While the board did not endorse either proposal, based on a motion suggested by a community member, it asked the group to submit a draft RFP by Aug. 3.

The proposed text is posted on the town’s website on the Selectboard’s Draft Minutes and Supporting Documents page at bit.ly/573-police-rfp.

The board has also posted documents from previous meetings that can provide additional background information.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #573 (Wednesday, August 5, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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