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Brattleboro public-safety review process approved

After an arduous process, the Selectboard seeks proposals and committee applications for a facilitator to guide the town through evaluating all aspects of the way it provides public safety

The application form for the Community Safety Review can be found on the “Boards and Committees Application” page on the town’s website at brattleboro.org, under the “Boards & Committees” tab.

BRATTLEBORO—Community members interested in serving on a public safety oversight committee have until Tuesday, Sept. 8 to apply.

After more than 15 hours of discussion at its most recent meeting, and after multiple meetings building up to the decision, the Selectboard on Aug. 18 approved a request for proposals (RFP) to launch a deep review of how the town provides public safety.

The board discussed a few final tweaks, concerns, and a few final legal questions before approving the RFP. One such concern was to ensure that the committee remained inclusive.

The process to advocate for and create the RFP was community driven and collaborative by design, with organizers representing a number of activist groups in town, including Out in the Open, Tenants Union of Brattleboro, 350 Brattleboro, Brattleboro Solidarity, and The Root Social Justice Center.

“We’re fostering conversation on what safety means to us as a community so then we can decide how to best approach meeting our needs (hopefully instead of just dumping it all under policing),” Wichie Artu, one of the architects of the plan, wrote on the Brattleboro, Vermont Facebook group.

Report due this year

The RFP seeks one or more facilitators to conduct the review and compile an initial report by the end of the year. The report will include recommendations for overhauling the town’s delivery of public safety.

As defined in the RFP, the review will consider multiple areas of community safety and well-being. These areas can include the Brattleboro Police Department, town policies, and the town’s financial support for nonprofit organizations and other community resources. The process should also identify any unmet needs.

The RFP also includes the creation of a community advisory committee to advise the facilitators.

The committee’s work can include gathering community input, insight into the town, suggesting different topics/area/systems to review, and participating in data analysis or interviews as appropriate. The committee will collaborate with the facilitator on any reports and recommendations.

According to a press release from the town manager’s office, all community members are invited to apply to serve on the committee.

However, according to the RFP, the Selectboard “will prioritize inclusion of Black, Indigenous and People of Color as well as other community members who are especially impacted: those who use drugs, psychiatrically-labelled people, people with disabilities, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, poor people, people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, LGBTQ+ folks, and more, while not excluding community members who may not identify as part of any traditionally marginalized population.”

Committee members will be compensated at a rate yet to be determined.

The Selectboard plans to appoint members of the Community Safety Review Committee at its Sept. 15 board meeting.

Selectboard member Brandie E. Starr supported creating the community-led public safety review since the topic came before the board earlier this summer.

“Protecting black and brown bodies is incredibly important work, and we are not immune to the impact of brutality and inequity even here in our small town of Brattleboro, Vermont,” she wrote in an email. “We must all be brave enough to hear the narratives, and to feel empathy towards the stories that are brought to our attention.”

“As nationwide movements sweep our country, we must use this opportunity to be brave enough to look at the systems that steeped in supremacy and use the power and privilege that we have in our offices, to make sweeping and effective policy and procedural changes to help heal our communities,” she continued.

Board Vice Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin said, “It’s important to me that we act on our promise to examine police department policies, practices, and budget in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.”

“Attacking systemic racism in our community begins with an examination of our police department,” she continued. “All of Brattleboro is welcome to join in this work by applying to serve on this Public Safety Committee. We can unite as a community to fulfill our promise to Black Lives Matter right here in our beloved Brattleboro, to make sure that policing policies match our values.”

Board member Daniel Quipp thanked everyone from the community to town staff for bringing the RFP to fruition.

“I’m really proud of the work that went into making our Community Safety Review happen,” he said. “I would like to thank the members of the community that pushed us, labored, drafted, collaborated, mobilized, and held us accountable to bring about a process with truly transformative potential.

“I’m also grateful for the work of my fellow board members, town manager and town attorney for getting this first phase to the finish line,” he added. “I hope that people in our community who have been impacted by policing and have knowledge about ways to create safety will apply to join the committee.”

Selectboard Chair Tim Wessel wrote in an email that after many hours of deliberations, he feels the board has reached a place of “good balance.”

Wessel took heat from some community members for voicing concerns around some aspects of the RFP. For example, early drafts contained language that Wessel felt would exclude some people from the process or usurp the board’s authority.

“Many citizens came to us wanting an honest evaluation of our police policies and budget, and our RFP reflects the need for addressing the hard questions being asked by many activists, balanced with the realities of Selectboard duties and the preservation of our democratic process,” he wrote.

“Just like those who sought a more radical action by the board, I am unhappy with several of the aspects of the RFP, but I feel we’ve ‘met in the middle’ and the need to move forward was pressing us all to compromise,” Wessel added.

For Wessel, appointing committee members with a broad set of experiences and perspectives will be crucial.

“I’d like to remind residents that the Selectboard will be truly seeking a cross-section of Brattleboro residents to make up the committee, and that will include those who support our current structure of policing, those who might seek alternatives to that structure, and those who are indifferent or are there to learn more themselves,” he wrote.

“This is a fact-seeking mission around community safety in Brattleboro, and you’ll be asked to leave any personal agenda and politics at the door.”

Requests for comment from Board Clerk Ian Goodnow and members of the community who developed the initial RFP, were not returned by press time.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #576 (Wednesday, August 26, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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