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Baker: A time for police transparency~ RH October 9, 2015

Baker: A time for police transparency
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
STAFF WRITER | October 09, 2015
KILLINGTON — “This is not the time to hunker down and circle the wagons,” former Rutland City police chief James Baker told a group of law enforcement leaders Thursday.
“Vermont is not an island,” he said, “Vermont has to create its own dialogue.”
This is a time for transparency, Baker told a group of about 36 people attending a workshop on 21st-century policing at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ annual Town Fair at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel.
Baker left his position as police chief in Rutland at the end of 2014 for a job with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington. IACP and Baker were instrumental in helping the city select its new chief, Brian A. Kilcullen, who is expected to take the helm Nov. 2.
“At the Rutland Police Department, they are now putting their use of force data on the Internet; that’s transparency,” Baker said of the new police data portal. “That’s what we’re talking about: If you’re in a community that believes you are using too much force, they are not buying into summary data.”
After a rash of violent incidents around the country illustrated rifts in relationships between local police and the community, President Barack Obama, on Dec. 18, signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on 21st-Century Policing. Designed to offer recommendations on policing practices, the task force examined best practices in community policing and formed a guide for law enforcement.
“What happened in Ferguson (Mo.) is a total embarrassment to the United States of America,” Baker said. “What happens in Ferguson affects you here. What happens in Baltimore affects you here. What happens in Oregon affects you here.”
In May, the task force released its report and the six pillars of policing: Building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education, officer wellness and safety.
“Vermont will miss an opportunity if it does not sit down and measure itself against these pillars,” Baker said. “It’s about treating people with dignity and respect and giving those disenfranchised a voice. I’m not sure if giving everyone a traffic ticket is doing that.”
He said looking at traffic-stop data is revealing, but police departments are reluctant to collect the data.
“We didn’t want to believe we stopped people based on ethnicity,” Baker said. “But the numbers showed it was happening.”
According to the Vermont Fair and Impartial Policing Law, passed in 2014, all law enforcement agencies are required to collect data by race and make it available to the public. They are required to have a fair and impartial policing policy, and provide ongoing training to new and existing officers.
Several Vermont police departments and the State Police volunteered to collect data and have it analyzed.
“We were getting recurrent complaints from people of color about being stopped by law enforcement,” said Rep. William J. Lippert Jr., D-Chittenden, in an earlier interview. “We wanted to do something. The first year of data was analyzed … the darker your skin, the more likely you are to be pulled over.”
Baker said it is important to let the public know what is going on in police departments. The time of only telling good things to the public are gone, he said.
“Community policing, it’s more than saying you do community policing. If your internal affairs process doesn’t allow the public to touch it somehow … you need to find a way to release internal affairs reports.”
According to Baker, the expectations of police have never been higher.
He talked about issues faced by people living in poverty.
“Just getting the laundry done is difficult,” he said, urging those in the audience to consider this, the next time they stop someone for going through a stop sign.
“When I walked into the Rutland Police Department and saw how they treated people in poverty, it was appalling,” Baker said, adding that is has changed immensely since that time.
While such changes in policing pose many challenges, Baker said the opportunities are great.
“There has never been a better time for improvement. It’s an opportunity for thoughtful leaders to step forward,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to change history.”


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