The recently released International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) evaluation of the Bennington Police Department is just a snapshot of a much larger problem – one that reaches far beyond the boundaries of Bennington.
For context, this evaluation came from the urging of the Vermont Attorney General, Vermont NAACP, and Vermont ACLU following the discovery of major mishandling and withholding of evidence in the investigation of alleged crimes against former state representative Kiah Morris. This story rocked our state, national, and global communities and inspired needed conversations in communities throughout Vermont. The report did not look into the Morris case specifically, but instead sought to determine and assess the structural failings it highlighted.
The findings of the IACP report and community discussions on the Bennington Police Department are alarming:
- One in five community members reported discrimination by the Bennington Police
- 40% of community members do not trust the Bennington Police Department
- LGBTQIA+, or members of racial or ethnic minority groups, and those who experience mental illness or are homeless who report crimes to Bennington Police have been told they will become the targets of the criminal investigations for reporting
- The Bennington Police Department has no legitimate complaint process for citizens and complaints are handled at the sole discretion of the Town Manager
- The Bennington Police Department is not collecting and reporting legally required data about its practices in defiance of state law
And most disturbing, a significant number of Bennington’s most marginalized community members declined to participate in the evaluation for fear of retribution from the Bennington Police.
In response, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd, and Select Board Chair Donald Campbell each made comments in the press to distort the findings and question the legitimacy of the NAACP and ACLU’s critical responses to the report. In doing so, their comments dismiss the very real concerns of affected residents.
When our BIPOC, LGBTQ+, individuals with disabilities, and low-income friends and neighbors feel stigmatized by the stewards of safety in our community, we have to stand up and demand swift and far-reaching change.
The IACP report, commissioned by the Select Board, makes 25 recommendations for improvement of the police department in order to, “earn the trust of the entire community they serve” after years of disenfranchisement because of the department’s “warrior” mentality.
We take this evaluation seriously and believe that an immediate implementation of the IACP’s recommendations and a successful rollout of its action plan will require fresh, new leadership.
These concerns are not new, but it takes community pressure to make the changes we need, which is why I am asking you to sign our petition calling for the Bennington Select Board to:
- Call for and accept the resignations of Town Manager Stu Hurd and Chief of Police Paul Doucette.
- Require Chairman Don Campbell recuse himself from participating in the hiring processes of a new town manager and chief of police, and rather include the participation of historically underrepresented persons who will subsequently serve on a Citizens’ Oversight Board.
- Prioritize the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Board for the Bennington Police Department designed, and led by marginalized populations and ensure it has subpoena power.
- Oversee immediate implementation of the recommendations of the IACP by members of the police department with plans for follow-up and meaningful consequences for lack of follow-through.
Finally, we think it is necessary to reopen and re-examine any complaints filed in the last 5 years not handled in compliance of Act 56.
We believe we will be indivisible when there is liberty and justice for all. Until we achieve that ideal, we will continue to fight for all of our rights. Let’s get this right.