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City police evaluation continues

“Rest assured, when you read the report, I can pretty much tell you, and I can be confident, there will not be one-sided or biased information in that report.”
— IACP Consultant Peter Carnes

VERGENNES — The International Association of Chiefs of Police analysis of the Vergennes Police Department is entering a new phase, one that actively seeks feedback about the operations of the department from those who live or work in the city.

This phase is basically the last in what the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) calls a “workload and staffing analysis study,” for which the Vergennes City Council last August agreed to pay IACP $30,000. A final report is due in May.

City officials will be considering the IACP’s recommendations this spring along with the proposal made by the council-appointed Citizen Review Board Exploratory Committee for the creation of a citizen panel to work with the council and city manager on police issues. That committee made that recommendation in a 70-plus page report officially released in January.

Last week representatives of the IACP told the city council their team will be in Vergennes between April 4 and 8 conducting focus groups and more interviews of community stakeholders. No interviewees will be identified in the final report, according to the IACP.

They are also inviting residents, business owners and their employees to fill out a confidential survey about city police, with a due date of Tuesday, March 22. It may be found at www.research.net/r/VPD_Community. The IACP and city officials were working late last week to make paper copies available at city hall and possibly the Bixby Library.

According to the IACP the survey takes 15 minutes or less to complete. Those with questions or concerns about the survey or the study itself may email the IACP team at VergennesVT@theIACP.org

The IACP team members working with the city all have extensive law enforcement experience. They are:

  • Consultant Peter Carnes, a former president of the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association.
  • Consultant James Baker, a former Vermont State Police director.
  • Three IACP employees: Project Director Meghann Casanova, IACP’s Senior Program Manager; Kathleen Kelley, the Vergennes Project Manager; and Carla Omarale, the Vergennes Project Coordinator.

STUDY DETAILS

Carnes and Kelley attended the council’s March 8 meeting via Zoom.

Kelley described the IACP’s overall mission, as well as providing professional training and resources, as being “committed to advancing safer communities through thoughtful, progressive police leadership.”

She said the study would focus on three areas: “staffing and workload,” “the policing environment as a whole,” and “the engagement between the community and the police, which helps us understand the community’s expectations for deliveries of police services.”

The outcome, Kelley said, will include a final report summarizing IACP’s findings and making recommendations, “including how current resources are being utilized” and how they might be “re-deployed to meet community and agency goals.”

IACP’s visit in early April will include “community stakeholder-Vergennes Police Department focus groups and interviews,” she said.

So far the study has looked in depth at the department’s operations, including records of calls for service, work schedules, budgetary data, chain of command, professional policies, inventory and use of equipment and vehicles, community programs, traffic enforcement and stop data, and more. The IACP also conducted a workforce survey of the department.

The IACP representatives also told the council last week that Carnes and Baker have already done a series of interviews with what they called Vergennes stakeholders.

City Manager Ron Redmond said last week those interviewed included volunteers, church and nonprofit leaders, non-elected members of city committees, firefighters, citizens who have interacted with police and other law enforcement officials, and more.

Redmond said he, Mayor Matt Chabot and Police Chief George Merkel all made suggestions for a list of possible interview subjects that included as many as 300 names.

“I gave them everybody I could think of, and I had a lot of help with people giving me names,” Redmond said.

PULLING OUT THEMES

At the council meeting Carnes told the council the “20 or more” interviews already conducted virtually have been productive.

“The conversations have been terrific. They’ve been friendly. They’ve been quite open, and we have a great deal of information from these great conversations that we’ve had regarding the future of policing in Vergennes,” Carnes said.

Kelley and Carnes addressed a concern from Council Mel Hawley that it wasn’t a “truly random survey and thus could have “pro-police or anti-police biases.” Kelley said bias is accounted for in the survey process, and Carnes added that conversations had proven to be balanced and productive.

Kelley said one of the reasons to do a survey was to receive “a wide range of responses” and data “from as many people in the community as possible” that will help IACP “pull out different themes and things for us to look at … We will be aware of potential biases, but it’s more for us to get a wider range of data beyond the focus groups and data.”

Carnes said he and Baker saw reasonable points of view in their interviews.

“We were careful with our interviews,” he said. “Those of us who have done a lot of interviews in our careers, you can almost detect immediately any bias … I don’t recall any of them that were one-sided. They were without bias.”

He concluded: “Rest assured, when you read the report, I can pretty much tell you, and I can be confident, there will not be one-sided or biased information in that report.”

Carnes also told city officials that anything they could do to improve survey response numbers would be helpful.

Kelley said the Strong House Inn would serve as the home base for the focus groups, which would include gatherings of members of the city’s business, community and nonprofit sectors.

She added invitees would most likely come from the same pool of candidates suggested to the IACP for individual interviews.

“We did receive a stakeholder list, a good group of people who are representative of the community and of the residents as a whole of the area,” Kelley said. “We will be reaching out to those folks for the focus groups.”

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