Selectboard Special Meeting Notes: August 2021 Community Safety Review Update

Brattleboro Selectboard aug 31

The Brattleboro Selectboard held a special meeting to hear Town Manager Peter Elwell discuss the progress made on Community Safety Review Committee recommendations.

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  • Special Meeting Coverage

    Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin – we’ll give Daniel another minute. Hi Daniel. Let us begin. We’ll be participating via zoom and encourage you to, too, but there is presence at the municipal center, if masked. This is a special meeting to update the town on the implementation of the community safety report. Peter…

    Peter Elwell – thanks. I’ll try to keep my presentation relatively short, but it is important and there are a lot of pieces and a lot of work going on. I’ll summarize the written update given to the selectboard. It’s on the town website. I won’t read it, but will summarize it.

    A year ago the selectboard created the community safety review team. Community members served, held meetings, extensive community input…. by the end of September the team had been appointed, and they met weekly and more to collect info and issued a report, as requested by the board. You held additional meetings for more public input, and that culminated int a March 2 meeting that directed us to move forward as we’ll discuss tonight. I had a spreadsheet with recommendations and notes – some couldn’t be implemented due to legal barriers, more where there was some context about what was within the town’s control, and other information. Some would get done quickly, some would take time, some would be started and would take time. Much had to be ongoing. I asked you not to differentiate… it is so vast that we needed to gets started and find our way. You authorized that and we moved forward since March 2. I’ll summarize what’s been done, and things that relate to actions and ways we are approaching our work that aren’t specifically on the list of recommendations, and to give and example…

    … there was an important aspect – the first four recommendations asked us to pause and acknowledge that systemic racism and oppression are real and our systems had been created and sustained by this – we made a commitment to find it in Brattleboro and correct it. Identify it and work on it, so we can look back and know we accomplished tasks but also made things more fair. The work since then, on this and other aspects of town government, have seen this commitment is real. Some examples: in outreach tot he community – in this report and other ways – we hadn’t done sufficient outreach to under represented members of the community, and we acknowledge it. Specifically, we have a housing study going on, and the inclusive process to create the consultant to help us with upgrading the town’s website. In that project, the intention is to do better outreach, and both are underway. Following the advice, too, to compensate people during those processes. Also, in the manner we addressed the ongoing challenges of people experiencing homelessness, we as a town team, and work with Groundworks and others, have worked hard to reduce the role of the police department with homelessness situations. We’re applying our partnerships and civilians to these circumstances first – we’re attempting to handle these in person to person ways without police wherever possible. And something that began the review but has been reinforced by the process is how we do recruitment for town positions – from entry levels up to the new town manager and department heads. We are no longer specific about any educational requirements or years of experience… we now speak to the work that needs to be done and the characteristics we expect so anyone on the planet can apply. We are getting more diverse applicant pools, and some of the best candidates have come from non-traditional paths. It’s been particularly rewarding to apply these issues of equity.

    Another thing that will impact things for years to come was the hiring of Norma hardy, who is here tonight. I ask we be patient. She’s been Chief for 32 days. We want to make sure she gets an opportunity to get a full handle of what she sees and the role of the police, but the presence of her and her 30+ years of experience bringing to us great leadership skills from that career but also in a way people are seeing, but based on the facilities of the Port Authority, and the way she interacted with the parts of the populations served by those facilities – people with needs, and those passing through, – they interact in similar ways to things here in Brattleboro. Also, I want to thank her and assure people in the community that she’s everywhere. She’s holding announced sessions to talk about issues, and walking downtown in neighborhoods, sometimes alone, sometimes with officers. This Saturday she checked on a situation and stayed for the morning to discuss it with people in the neighborhoods. She’s approachable, with a strong leadership presence. We applied our lessons learned and specific mention in our materials to the community safety review process – it was in the work so whomever we hired would help add value to the process.

    In the 4 recommendations, 7 spoke to parts of the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy – municipal police interaction with Immigration. No more merging of that … within Brattleboro Police, the concept is already present and much of the policy already reflects that, but didn’t do it in ways about the firewall we intend to have in the way that was recommended. We recognized that, and the shared commitment in principle. These recommendations were the easiest portion of the work to implement. Much work will be harder, but this piece was about collaborating with Migrant Justice and 3 local folks to look at the proposed language and see what changes were necessary. We had a good exchange, mark Carignan sent it to the Attorney General to approve such changes, it was approved, and it is now incorporated into our policies and procedures as requested by the community. Everything else is underway or ongoing, these 7 items are finished to the degree anything is ever finished. We’ll make sure we’re following the policy, and can change it if needs arise, but for now this is addressed.

    In contrast to that, a few ways we’ve learned about better ways to address issues related to mental health and the ay in which an individual’s struggles can show up that have drawn responses that are less about the health of the persona nd more about controlling he situation. Until we have a better way, this will continue, if there is a chance for harm. We have a sense of urgency and a need to move to a better way without creating void, so here I’ve been informed by individuals that have lived experience about ways we can do better. We need to learn more and we will need to have partners. It’s an area, as with other social service work in the community relying on civilians as the first go-t0, and police only as last resort, we need to set up those processes. We’ve seen good example, and work being done in Vermont, and some examples may or may not be applicable here. The report has a large emphasis on this part of the work, and it currently isn’t addressed well. We rely too much on the police to contain situations causing fear. We know we need to move away form this, but to do it we need to create the better systems to put in place.

    Along that continuum, one idea being explored – a well established model that de-emphasize the role of the police. It’s a step along the way toward what we aspire to – crisis intervention teams – mental health and medical folks along with a police officer sent to a scene, with the police being last out of vehicle if needed. Removing the first arriving police officer and changing it to a support person who can step out if danger exists. It’s being explored. We’ll have something to say next time we give an update.

    Data collection and analysis was important, and we need to improve systems. We have operated using Stillman – the state data collection system. It’s old and not very nimble and hasn’t met our needs as we look at geographic data – we know we need to collect data more granular and immediately available. The state is changing to Valcour, which will let us collect better data and do the analysis we want to do – for community safety and for the police department. This means we can deploy in a fair and equitable way. One thing to note, to devote the time to do this earnestly, we may need to commit resources to it that we aren’t currently doing – we have some ideas and it may not be a heavy financial lift, but probably some additional resources in data collection and analysis. The tool is free of charge by the state. We’ll talk more during the budget process about using Valcour.

    Chief Hardy and I and Graeme Donald from Scotland, a retired police inspector advising Brattleboro Common Sense. We’ve had zoom meetings with him. He has vast experience – 30 years in law enforcement in the aspect in the UK where armed and unarmed patrols meet. There are armed units, and not armed units. He has a unique perspective to share about exploring the value of these questions and the relationship between law enforcement and the community, and the different gun culture here vs theUK, and he’s very realistic in his description in things that need to be considered – what;’s different and what might be possible. We have agreed with him that Chief Hardy and he will continue a dialogue. The communication is insightful, but we are being beyond cautious. The needle hasn’t moved in terms of our eager anticipation for any level of disarmament. Donald says he understands our concerns, and there are more things to explore. We’re open to continuing to learn about it, and Chief Hardy will decide when and how and if it is proper. We haven’t shut down the discussion with Donald. We’re willing to keep talking and we might learn. We represent a broad section of folks, and some might be frightened that ee are even having this conversation. I think it is important to talk with him, and to recognize that with violence in this county we can’t commit to anything specific now. This is a body of work – some might go fast, slow, or never be implemented at all. Here, we are engaged and it might lead to good action.

    My final point of update is about other work in the community – I don’t know about it and can’t talk about it, but it is important to recognize that the Town can’t pull all the levers. We need to be open and aware of those being organized by others. Many things will need to come from or be done with the community. One, for example – the Women’s Freedom Center – founded to do informal refuge and it grew into a small non-profit, and now thriving with multiple locations owned. The first home was purchased by the Town using state funds. We owned it until the last few years. There are ways in which community initiatives can thrive with and without the support of the Town. But that’s a real-life example of community people creating greater community safety, supported by town government at key moments… there will be other things, efforts are underway right now.

    In the next few months, there are three topics in my memo. The last one first – let’s have another update meeting in December. The reason I think it is ideal is twofold – it will be in my final weeks of my role as town manager and I can formally hand off the baton. You’ll move on with more work going forward, but let’s not December come and go, and it is an ideal time – we’ll into the budget process, but not finished. We can look at how the budget reflects the work being done to support this. We’ll work together on the budget – by mid December the shape will be pretty clear, but of you wait you wouldn’t have the community safety context, so mid December would be the best time to check in.

    Between now and then, the board will begin to make policy directive decisions. The first set will come as we make budget decisions. The other thing is we are deep in the recruitment for the new town manager, and hope to have this person her by the first of December so I have overlap with them. Between now and December, it is an essential part of being able to continue with this body of work.

    Liz – I want to thank you. So much good, thoughtful work. I thank you and town staff. It is a lot fo work, and complex issues. I see they are being addressed in a cooperative manner. We can all continue to work with the outline prepared for us in early march and approved by the board. It reflects the dust the community has in Peter and his work, and something the community has come together to support this work.

    Jessica Gelter – I’m excited to speak to this as a selectboard member. I was a community member that participated. I’m behind the acknowlegement of harm and this review process. Excited to have Chief Hardy on board and the work done so far. I think the one thing that make me nervous – where will the leadership come from, and institutional partnerships come from once you retire. As a board we need to look at how we invest in the partners doing the work and some sort of leadership structure that can champion this community safety work.

    Liz – we’ll hear form bard members, then the pubic, then discuss next steps.

    Ian Goodnow – thanks to all. It has been an interesting opportunity to see this next phase to move from the process to accepting the goals to seeing how it is when the rubber hits the road. I’m finding myself anxious to get involved where the selectboard can take action. can the board provide us with materials for the policy and budget stuff in time for budget season?

    Elwell – we expect to be able to provide good guidance on many – the updated implementation table has a new column with updated notes as of last week and there are several places that we expect to lead to discussion in the budget process. Our intention is for the staff to bring a budget, then we meet every Tuesday to discuss budget issues, plus regular business. We’re deep in the process for three full months. We expect to bring you info relative to this right from the start, and you’ll probably have other things you want. This work will be in there in many ways. Also, to Jess, it has been important to me and satisfying to me to be deeply involved in this, and it is important that we not overly invest the progress we make in one person. I get why I’m overly identified with it, but I’ll pass the info on to my successor. The community is deep into this, they started it. That’s not going away. It does need good leadership, and it is part of your search. I’m optimistic that you’ll hire the town manager you want.

    Tim Wessel – thank to Peter and all staff for getting this together – it is a lot of work. I’m petty excited about the possibilities – it occurred to me about what the town can and can’t do – Town has limited powers, but town has more power – we’ve seen it over and over again. What occurs to me is that in this process when we ask what we want our police force to be doing and how to be most efficient and have agreed roles, I’d like to challenge the town to think about when they think of calling for police. They respond when called. It’s a basic thing to say but we don’t remember it. There isn’t a police brain guiding their actions… they fill in gaps when people feel unsafe. I throw it out to the community – when you are about to call the police, why? Could you talk to your neighbor, or make a connection with people rather than calling someone to solve it for you? That’s me waxing philosophical.

    Liz – bctv? Daniel?

    Daniel Quipp – I’ll do the opposite of waxing philosophical. I appreciate the work that has gone into this and I share some of the trepidation about handing over this work, and as someone searching for a new Town manager it will be important that we find someone actively concerned and interested in this process. I’m kinda excited about the policy decisions to be made by the board – investing in BIPOC programs, working for alternative mental health support, restorative justice, deescalation models… more… I’ve looked through several times and it comes to me that this is the space where we have some power and some say and there is a lot to do to build alternative safety responses. I’m here for it. We won’t solve it this year, but hope to have as much information during budget season that we could see what things could be like. I’m hopeful and ready see where we’ll end up together.

    Liz – ok, let’s here for the public

    Shea – great to see you all and I was one of the cofacilitaors and coauthors of the report. I want to share some reflections about what I heard from Peter. It makes a lot of sense that you are setting up the transitions to carry the work forward. It’s better not to band-aid quickly rather than dig in deeply. I feel a sense of urgency. One of the challenges of this process is that it is hard to know what the direct commitments we made together really mean. the safer policing conundrum is an example – we agreed to work on that. How to we hold you and the next town manager accountable that Peter has held really well. It would be nice to have some body or process to carry through that transition. One idea is that we formalize the partnership of the community partners Peter mentions. I wonder what it will look like to make sure those who have life experience still have a seat at the table. I’m glad Peter will be a continuing resource. maybe he could be on the advisory group. He holds so much institutional knowledge. It would be helpful for us in the community to make sure you are committing to having the same people in the room as the work continues. Some ideas about the future. One other thing, as someone who listened to experiences, I know the CPCC was reflected on exclusively as a harmful body – they couldn’t hold police accountable. I want to encourage we move on that quicker. Many people would rather nothing exists until the next iteration works. Disband the CPCC? That’s all I have to share.

    Kurt Daims – thank you for you response Peter. Brattleboro Common Sense began the plan in 2017 with Chief Fitzgerald. By the time the committee was working on it, Mark Carignan wanted to see lived experience in the data, so we brought inspector Graeme Donald to speak with you, which led to fruitful conversations. The proposals to continue the conversation doesn’t honor the CSRC report. Mr. Donald knows Brattleboro is safer than Glasgow where safe policing is used. The pilot plan is so modest – an hour or so of officer’s time being without a weapon per week. It’ modest. I hope your conversations were not hindered by misconstruing the select board’s authority – the charter says the selectboard can say how police use equipment. BCS will continue our work. We hoped to get it implemented in Brattleboro- it will be a big thing – transformative for police public relations. That’s the kind of thing we need to do.

    Elwell – there is an aspect of his comment and from Shea that this part of the recommendations can explain – the question of accountability and fulfillment of original intention as compared to working on the body of work and getting to a place where some are very pleased and some maybe not. One thing we’ve said is that it will take a long, long time. We in this meeting will never be finished with it. Accountability goes beyond us showing what we’ve been doing, but also showing where we aren’t doing well. I’ve tried to report some really rich communication who believes in this, and for trying it, and the conversation is ongoing because only Chief Hardy can make that recommendation. She needs to improve community safety. We’re not moving assertively toward implementation, but we’re staying in dialogue with someone who has vast experience. We have no specific timeframe, though. We’re trying to be very candid about what we’re not moving forward with at this time.

    Ain Thompson – on the larger aspect of creating alternatives, I’ve heard that these structures like crisis response teams, or respite spaces available – funding, funding, funding is a big deal. If we fund one we don’t fund another. I’ve seen pier’s commitment to accountability, and this board. The idea of supporting body to keep the institutional body, and having Peter on it… it would be important for another matter – leaving the creation of alternatives to the systems that people don’t trust is not the way to go forward. I’d hope there was still community involvement form those with experiences.

    Alex Fisher – A giant fan of all this work. Thanks everyone that has allowed us to be in this moment, and to acknowledge the centuries and millennia of communities doing work on community and community safety – for those who have lost lives to the carceral systems. I want to remind us that in Brattleboro, we are not the one and only ones doing this work. Our resources go beyond this town. We aren’t doing anything new. There is a lot to learn from and expand from. two things – small critiques – one, the CPCC issue – fully disband it now. I was on it, and have heard from others. I support disbanding it. Why not? And, I the crisis response team as a step toward decoupling police – really acknowledge that there would be an increase in police action with EMT’s and other folks on call. People responding would have to feel safe riding with the police in a car with them. When we think of people responding, and community members, and they could be people who feel unsafe around the police. The CIT model requires a policing system. Let’s go for the gold and try to decouple by doing it right. Let’s not create steps to move away from the horizon. I know it is a model people are using, but not sure it takes us where we want to go. The three things I’m excited about – this is huge, and want to celebrate that a year ago we were discussing whether this was a priority for the town. That it is moving forward – hurrah! yeah for impartial policing and the advisory board. We want to involve those not traditionally involved, and all that Daniel shared about selectboard actions coming soon. I’m very excited and appreciate so many things.

    Bob Oeser – So much good. I want to zero in on one paragraph – the leadership of individuals and organizations in the community. It needs to be created and nourished. Thanks for mentioning that, and the Women’s Freedom Center. WE need to develop capacity – new things weren’t developed to replace the old bad systems and we are dealing with he results of that. We need to create and nourish the systems.

    Kurt Daims – Peter – your strategy of taking the whole table at once.. I get that. There is some allowance for variation. I’d say I hope it is fine that we break up the safe policing project a bit. The CSRT endorsed three things – to not wear weapons at public meetings. Maybe we could ask the Chief to implement that soon?

    Liz – thanks, Kurt!

    Gary Stroud – How ya doing everybody. Back on zoom. Good to see everyone. This is an addition, about moving ahead into uncharted waters. I’m the vice chair of CPCC. I think it is time to ramp up and take things to… it served its purpose and now with the new generation, if you can’t remodel, you renew. We need to take action and not just speaking, and start doing it and applying it to situations in town and around the world. If they create a new board or panel I’d look forward to doing that. I’m getting too old. I’ll see you at the fishing hole or Hannaford, Peter.

    Liz – we’ve heard interesting things. I don’t think.. we should reiterate where we are and next steps – There is a lot to absorb from tonight and no specific action for us to take, but we will be going forward with our December meeting and budget talks this fall and we can all be heartened by the police chief search was so fruitful, and yielded a strong commitment to this work. And example for the town manager search. We are looking for a like-minded person to continue this work.

    Peter – thanks for the community input…

    Jessica – I’m really inspired by ideas that have come up. I’m interested about the CPCC and how we might institutionalize and fund this work, and we didn’t get to hear from Chief Hardy. If she’d like to respond or say anything, it would be nice…

    Chief Hardy – I’ll say that I applaud the board and Peter. We’ve been working very hard. Lots of meetings and discussions. We can do a lot fo things with this to make the community better. I have lots of meetings coming up. I’m open to speaking with the community. I’ll do another Chat with Chief, or contact me.

    Tim – I want to acknowledge a couple fo voices about the CPCC – I hear those concerns and I think we could think of making that discussion be in the December meeting more intentionally. I hate the word disband… I’d like to see a new name and mission. Disband sends a signal that these good people… eh, we don’t need you. I’d like a complete revamp of the committee. Just something I don’t like about the term. And gosh, the most important task is picking a replacement for Peter Elwell. We’re diving in starting tomorrow.

    Shea – disband is in the recommendations. I’m less concerned with semantics than action. The action that is needed is to stop that institutionalized body. Revamp is not the recommendation – we need a new thing. It needs a new form and new mission. I don’t care about the word disband.

    Gary – It’s not the word disband. I used the word renew… like a car, or yourself. You need to bring the old mission statements up to current standards. Revamp the structure. It worked at the time but not now.

    Ian – one quick comment – on the town manager search. I’ve been reflecting on it a lot. I’m grateful for this work on the CSRC and board – helpful as we do the search and using this material in our decision making. I’m committed to it. It’s a little daunting, but this material and this meeting have been helpful.

    Liz – tomorrow we have another special meeting where we have an executive session and review applications for the new town manager. Thanks to all for paying attention and all for hard work.

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