What function is this group actually serving?

The Citizen Police Communication Committee in Brattleboro is supposed to be holding the police accountable to a panel of civilians. The group’s minutes say otherwise.

BRATTLEBORO — Selectboard Chair Tim Wessel recently put out some information he gained directly from Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald, which sparked my desire to look back at recent Citizen Police Communication Committee meeting notes and agendas to see if reality aligned with the information being presented.

On June 12, when I went to the CPCC website on the Town of Brattleboro page and clicked through to the “2020 Minutes & Agendas” link, I discovered that the CPCC has met possibly one time this year.

The website indicates that they canceled both the scheduled January and February meetings; they did not schedule March, April, or May meetings; and they canceled the June 1 scheduled meeting. An agenda is posted for a June 22 meeting but not yet any accompanying notes.

OK, this has been a strange year! So what did the CPCC do, according to the public minutes, in 2019?

Again, when I downloaded and read through the 2019 minutes, I found eight meetings in 2019 (two canceled meetings in January and April; none scheduled in May or December).

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.” According to these minutes, only three of those meetings in 2019 had a member from BPD present (twice Captain Mark Carignan, once Chief Fitzgerald).

In Tim's recent op-ed [“Our police department, our values,” Viewpoint, June 17], he wrote, “To the department'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.

At the Nov. 25, 2019 meeting, a person wanting to bring a complaint forward at the meeting was told that the CPCC meeting was not the place to bring their complaint; rather, 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 its meeting and is turned away, what function is this group actually serving?

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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 is counted only 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 shows three instances (September, October, and November) 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 - as illustrated by the group's own minutes.

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