The Brattleboro Selectboard will hear highlights from the last three months of work on the Community Safety Review Recommendations from Town Manager Peter Elwell this evening. Here is his latest memo outlining what he plans to present. (I’d love to cover this special meeting but other plans intrude).
This memorandum, the attached updated implementation table, and the presentation I will make at the December 14 Selectboard meeting comprise Town staff’s second status report to the Selectboard and the community regarding our implementation of recommendations from the 2020 community safety review. For context and easy reference, attached are my memorandum dated February 25, 2021 (which was considered at the Selectboard meeting on March 2, 2021) and my memorandum dated August 26, 2021 (which was considered at the Selectboard meeting on August 31, 2021). At the March 2 meeting, the Selectboard approved the recommendation contained in my February 25 memorandum and Town staff has proceeded with this body of work in the manner described in that document. Beyond staff’s update, the December 14 Selectboard meeting also will include further Selectboard consideration of these matters with community participation.
The first four columns on the attached implementation table are identical to the implementation table reviewed at the Selectboard’s August 31 meeting. The fifth column on that document provides comments on the current status of each of the 41 individual recommendations that were set forth in the Community Safety Review Team’s (CSRT’s) report.
Here are some highlights from the past 3 months of continued implementation:
Community Safety Fund
The most important single thing that has happened in this body of work during the past 3 months is the creation of the Community Safety Fund. Using savings from vacant police officer positions, the Selectboard approved setting aside $200,000 from the FY22 operating budget to create the fund this past October. Then, in November, I included an additional $100,000 as a transfer from BPD to the Community Safety Fund in staff’s proposed FY23 operating budget. Nine of the recommendations from the community safety review encourage the Town to provide tangible support for community-based initiatives that are intended to make the community safer by reducing the need for and amount of police intervention.
The Community Safety Fund will enable the Selectboard to provide funding assistance to such initiatives. The Selectboard’s process and criteria for making allocation decisions will be determined in 2022 prior to any distribution of funds to any particular initiative. This work need not be rushed because creation of the Community Safety Fund allows this money to be reserved for this purpose beyond the end of FY22 on June 30, 2022. (If the police officer salary savings were to be used for this purpose without the creation of the Community Safety Fund, then the allocations would have to occur prior to June 30 or any remaining funds at that time would revert to General Fund balance.)
No Increase in BPD’s Training Budget for FY23
Recommendation #10 urged the Town to freeze BPD’s training budget. Last year, the Selectboard agreed and did not increase that budget for FY22. This year, Police Chief Norma Hardy and I did not request an increase for BPD training in Town staff’s proposed FY23 budget.
Recommendation #27 urged BPD to step away from Project Care, allowing it to be managed independently using funding the Town had allocated to BPD for this program. Chief Hardy has turned the funding allocation and administration of this program over to Turning Point. BPD is no longer involved in the administration of Project Care or in Project Care’s outreach or other field services. The only BPD involvement in Project Care now and going forward is to refer potential clients for the program.
Social Worker Liaison Program Suspended
Recommendation #31 urged the Town to “eliminate the social work liaison program” that had embedded an HCRS-paid social worker in BPD and in other law enforcement agencies. Chief Hardy has suspended BPD’s involvement in this program for the foreseeable future and will consider whether to eliminate it entirely or propose reactivating it in a different form.
Actions by Individuals and Organizations in the Community
As mentioned above, 9 of the recommendations from the community safety review encourage the Town to provide tangible support for community-based initiatives that are intended to make the community safer by reducing the need for and amount of police intervention. Some such initiatives already exist and I am aware of individuals and organizations who are developing other such initiatives. While I am not aware of the exact status of any such initiative and believe that updates on that work should come from the individuals and organizations who are doing that work, I am noting it in this update because of the important role such community generated initiatives will play in achieving our overall community safety goals. I urge individuals and organizations who are involved in this work to continue to closely monitor and provide input on the Town’s related work, including most importantly the upcoming Selectboard decision-making regarding the process and criteria for making allocations from the Community Safety Fund.
Police Presence at Community Meetings and Events (and the related issue of Police Firearms)
Chief Hardy is reducing the visible presence of BPD firearms, when appropriate. She attends most community meetings and community events in plain clothes. She is implementing a less military looking uniform for officers to wear when they are in uniform at community events and she is considering when it might be appropriate for officers to attend some community events in plain clothes, as well.
Chief Hardy continues to emphasize de-escalation and the obligation of officers to use the minimum force necessary in each situation. A specific example is a pilot project she is planning for testing “BolaWrap” as an alternative to tasers. This will help BPD officers reduce the amount of force needed to control a dangerous situation using an intentionally less-lethal option. Chief Hardy also will continue to communicate with Grame Donald (the retired Police Chief Inspector from Scotland who has advised Brattleboro Common Sense and has shared with Town officials his perspective and experience regarding unarmed patrols in the UK), with other international resources, and with domestic resources about reducing the reliance on firearms, when appropriate.
Crisis Intervention Team
One model of institutional adaptation that is becoming well established across the country is the use of Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs) as the first response to many calls for assistance that involve non-violent situations. The CIT model de-emphasizes the role of the police in such responses but does not entirely decouple police from them. Instead, interdisciplinary teams (often a mental health professional, an EMT or paramedic, and a police officer) report together to the scene and the police officer becomes involved only if the situation cannot be successfully addressed by the two unarmed health professionals.
Fire Chief Len Howard and Police Chief Hardy have opened up a dialogue with other agencies in our region (including Rescue Inc., Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Groundworks, and HCRS) about how these types of calls are handled now and how the protocols could be changed to promote better outcomes for all involved. This conversation began last summer and then stalled this past fall. The parties intend to meet again soon at least for the purpose of sharing de-escalation knowledge and experience and possibly to move in the direction of creating a CIT approach here in Brattleboro. Chief Howard, Chief Hardy, and others will have more to say on this topic in 2022.
A Final Word (for 2021) and a Look to the Future
This will be my final community safety update as Brattleboro’s Town Manager before I retire on December 31, 2021. New Town Manager Yoshi Manale has arrived in Brattleboro. He brings a wealth of municipal management experience and fresh perspective, but he will need some time to get to know Brattleboro and to work with the Selectboard, Chief Hardy, and the community before he will be able to bring the full value of his leadership to these important issues. I urge everyone to give him that time and to engage positively with him as he prepares to offer the Selectboard advice on two major pending matters in this work:
- The process and criteria by which the Selectboard will decide on allocations from the Community Safety Fund; and
- The appropriate number of authorized police officer positions in BPD.
These are decisions that need to be made during 2022, but neither needs to be rushed. All of us who are working to achieve greater community safety in Brattleboro would be well served to allow the Selectboard to be working with a Police Chief who has been here for almost a year and with a Town Manager who has been here for several months before proceeding with policy decisions that will have such significant impacts, both in the near term and for years to come.