Brattleboro survey puts light on racial profiling

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(Host) Over the last few years, the issue of racial profiling has been raised in Brattleboro.

Results of a survey done in 2004 were released recently and that put more light on the subject for the community.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, it’s a sensitive topic that triggers strong opinions.

(Keese) The survey was conducted by the ALANA Community Organization in October of 2004. ALANA interviewers reached 48 of Brattleboro’s approximately 250 minority households.

The report says minority families in town had 25% more contacts with police per year than the community at large. That’s compared with the results of a police department survey of town meeting voters in 2003.

Curtiss Reed is ALANA’s executive director:

(Reed) “In terms of the question of whether or not they thought racial profiling was a problem, 90% thought it was a problem with 54% considering it a serious problem.”

(Keese) The report took Brattleboro Police Chief John Martin by surprise. He says Brattleboro has a bias-free policing policy, and that his department is in the forefront of dealing with minority and racial issues.

(Martin) “And it’s very frustrating to sit here and listen to this report particularly coming in this manner to us two years after it has occurred, when possibly over the last two years there could have been things instituted department-wide or in other ways to prevent some of this if it’s going on.”

(Keese) Reed says ALANA waited to release its findings until Brattleboro’s new Community-Police Committee was up and running. The committee is just beginning to take community feedback on police-community relations.

The committee grew out of a 2004 town-meeting resolution that called for the formation of a citizen-police board.

Critics, including Reed, have charged that what was actually formed falls short of what the voters asked for.

Reed also says the complaints in his group’s survey have been voiced before but haven’t been taken seriously.

According to Reed, respondents spoke repeatedly of routine stops for minor infractions, and a condescending attitude.

(Reed) “During those stops where minority members were in a socially mixed group, uniformly people described the tendency of conversation when discussing with whites, has been – why are you with these black guys? Who among them is a drug dealer?”

(Keese) John Schaeffer chairs the new community police committee. He says his group will study the survey carefully.

(Schaeffer) “The survey was a focused survey of 48 households of minority folks and … is the survey representative of Brattleboro? I don’t think so. But it’s representative of some people’s feedback, which is important, you know?”

(Keese) Police Chief Martin says he’s also listening. He says he doesn’t want to quibble with ALANA’s findings or methodology.

(Martin) “I’m not interested in trying to do that. I think any information that comes to me or to the town needs to be looked at and considered, and I’m certainly going to do that with this latest survey.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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