By Don Keelan
The New York City Police Department has approximately 35,000 sworn officers; the department’s annual budget is greater than the state of Vermont’s annual spending.
I can’t imagine the cost or cost-per-officer if the city of New York were to engage a consulting firm to review the city’s policing practices on transparency, bias policing, and unwarranted traffic stops and searches.
One only needs to see recent spending on policing review in Burlington, Bennington, and Brattleboro for an idea on how much.
The contract cost paid to the consulting firms that were recently engaged were: Burlington, $99,524; Bennington, $66,000; and Brattleboro, $40,000. Without some form of reference, these amounts are meaningless. When they are related to the number of officers within each department, they take on more significance with pitiful and unnecessary results.
The number of sworn officers in the departments is 68, 26, and 17 for Burlington, Bennington, and Brattleboro.
The size was also noteworthy in reviewing the consulting firms’ three reports: Burlington and Brattleboro had sizable ones (155 and 224 pages), and Bennington’s report was relatively more minor (only 55 pages).
Again, can anyone imagine what it would cost New York City taxpayers if the above statistics were applied to a Big Apple policing report? Millions of dollars?
However, none of the above are significant. What is important? What has transpired in the United States over the years in how police departments self-police. The windows of the police departments need to be opened and opened wide.
In Vermont, there is a perception of inherent bias, a lack of transparency, and little self-examination within police departments, as noted by the three consultant reports. Furthermore, on the national level, unwarranted police stops of non-white individuals, use of excessive force, and, in all too many incidents, deadly shootings were, in part, what motivated the review of Vermont policing.
What puzzles me (and I don’t know why it was not picked up by others who are more knowledgeable in these matters than I am) is why not have one comprehensive state-wide report prepared on policing for all of Vermont’s cities and towns?
All one needs to do is to read the first few pages of the CNA report prepared for the city of Burlington to conclude that the consultants’ findings apply to most, if not all, Vermont police agencies.
The CNA report addressed racial bias, de-escalation, training, citizen complaints, use of force, staffing, traffic stops, seizures, and disciplinary policies. In some form or another, each town and city can identify with many of the problems noted.
Who has the time to digest the contents of reports that are hundreds of pages and contain scores of recommendations? The Burlington Police Department must work its way through 150 recommendations, assuming, of course, that the recommendations are, in fact, accurate. That city’s acting chief, on Sept. 21, issued a rebuttal to the report. It was 23 pages.
Vermont cities and towns are aware they have a problem in policing that must be addressed. What the towns don’t need is to wade through hundreds of reporting pages from outside consultants.
Is brevity no longer a virtue? Brattleboro’s police force (17) is smaller than most high school soccer teams but must digest a 254-page report. Brattleboro must have qualified people who could volunteer to review the town’s policing practices.
An old adage about consultants applies to governments, nonprofits, and businesses: “The leaders of an entity need to know the time. They call a consulting firm to obtain the time, and the consulting firm borrows their watch and tells them the time. The leaders now know the time, but the consultant firm kept the watch.”
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.