Report: Bennington police practices cause mistrust for some

April 21, 2020 GMT

MARSHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — The Bennington Police Department’s practices have created deep mistrust in parts of the community, undermining its “law enforcement legitimacy,” according to a report presented by the International Association of Chiefs of Police late Monday that makes recommendations for improvements.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan recommended the review following criticism of the department’s response to reports of racial harassment of a black state lawmaker.


Former Democratic State Rep. Kiah Morris, who was the only black woman in the Legislature, resigned in 2018 after receiving what she said were online and other racial threats. After an investigation by state police, Donovan said Morris was a victim of racial harassment but that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone.

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette has denied that his department failed to thoroughly investigate the case.

According to the new report, the department has some outdated and unclear policies, lacked a mission statement that officers were aware of, and often has a “warrior mentality” in daily interactions with residents.

“The project team observed a heavy emphasis on warrior thinking, which is important to keep the officers and the community safe but recommends a more balanced approach,” the report said. “The team found few instances where BPD leadership and officers embraced the principles of community policing, which include building mechanisms, policies, and operational procedures that are founded in the principles of leveraging trust relationships with the community to help the organization achieve goals, prevent crime, and promote a shared sense of public safety.”

The study also found that part of the Bennington community is reluctant to make complaints about crimes, file reports, or request assistance because they believe that if they do they will eventually be retaliated against by police. Some residents — such as those in certain racial or ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, and those who are homeless or who have mental illness — feel that if they make a complaint to police, they will become the target of the criminal investigation, the report said.

But the team found “no policies that would encourage systemic bias in the organization. What was found is the lack of policies that would strengthen opportunities to support members of the community who are most at risk for disparate treatment.”


Among the 25 recommendations, the report advises the department to adopt a community policing policy in which it meets with the community regularly to discuss crime and quality-of-life concerns. It recommends that the department consider creating a dedicated community liaison and a community advisory board that includes representation from diverse populations. It also recommends developing a new mission statement, vision statement and shared values statement.

Doucette did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on Tuesday.