Brattleboro Considers Citizen Review of Police

01/03/02 12:00AM



(Host)
A month has passed since Brattleboro police shot a man who was upset and agitated when he entered a local church and asked for sanctuary. The man, who carried a knife, died later during emergency surgery.

The shooting shocked Brattleboro. And now a Brattleboro selectwoman says the town should consider creating a citizen review panel to oversee the police.

VPR's John Dillon reports.


(Dillon)
Selectwoman Sara Edwards says she's just begun to study the idea of a citizen review commission to watch over local law enforcement.

Edwards says she's not out to blame Brattleboro police for the church shooting. But she says an independent review board could improve communication and accountability between the police and the public.

For Edwards, that could be one positive outcome from last month's tragedy.

(Edwards) "What I want to stress is that this is not out to get anybody or anything. This is about creating positive change in our community in the relationship between ¿ the cops, the police department and citizens. So citizens can understand what police are obligated to do and the police can understand more about what the community wants."

(Dillon)
Citizen review commissions are used in larger cities to curb police abuse and to make law enforcement more responsible to the public. The panels were first created after racial tensions erupted in the inner cities during the 1960s.

In Brattleboro, Edward's suggestion has gotten a mixed reaction. Paul Berch, a prominent local defense lawyer, says review panels provide checks and balances on police powers. But Robert Fagelson, chairman of the select-board, says the idea is premature.

Fagelson says citizen review boards are usually created in response to police misconduct or a cover-up by local officials. He says there's no evidence of either of those in the church shooting case.

Fagelson points out that the shooting is already under investigation by local prosecutors and the attorney general's office.

(Fagelson) "We will be, at some point or another, be looking at our policies but this is something we do on a regular basis anyhow and has nothing to do, necessarily, with this case. Our feeling is: wait and see what the findings are, and then act if we have to."

(Dillon)
Edwards still wants to pursue the idea. She says she wants to use a student from Vermont Law School to research how the police review panels operate in other communities around the country.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.
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