Trustees, Chief Bemis discuss BFPD transparency issues

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the Bellows Falls Village Trustees discussed transparency issues with Chief David Bemis of the Bellows Falls Police Department.

Bemis responded first to concerns about the recent news of the warming shelter’s closure this winter with a reminder to call 2-1-1 for information if needed.

Resident Mary Fredette addressed the need for transparency and accountability, noting inconsistencies and old information on both the BFPD Facebook and blog. Fredette asked, “What is the process and what happens [after a call is made]?”

Bemis explained certain information could not be released, including anything involving a juvenile. Fredette agreed confidentiality “is paramount, but I am distressed that people have given up.” Bemis assured that the BFPD “haven’t given up.”

Village President Deborah Wright said, “Citizens are not the only ones that are concerned about transparency.” She asked Bemis if the blog had been fixed, which he believed it had.

Gaetano Putignano mentioned the encrypted radio channel and said that “doesn’t reek of transparency.”

Wright agreed, “I would encourage the new chief to remove the encryption.”

Resident Alex Stradling supported Fredette’s concerns. He said it’s “a little daunting” to go to the police station to file a complaint against the police department.

Bemis answered, “We will take a complaint in any form,” explaining residents can call, email, or file a complaint at the Town Hall. Fredette requested this be shared on the website.

Bemis proposed a motion for the village to purchase cruiser cameras. He suggested waiting for state funding before purchasing body cameras. He recommended the Axon network because they provided one system for both vehicle and body cameras.

Axon representative Nick Horn explained videos would be stored in the cloud and on, helping to build trust within the community. He responded to a question about mobile microphones, saying that there were three cameras on the front of the vehicles and two on the rear.

The proposal for three cameras and installation would cost $36,157 and would be paid over five years. Bemis said a grant could pay for half of the cost. Development Director Gary Fox said, “It is unclear at this point” if the village was eligible.

James McAuliffe asked if residents wanted cameras. Bemis said, “We want transparency…the community certainly wants to know if we’re doing something wrong or something right.”

McAuliffe said, “It would be good for us to support the new chief’s recommendation.” The Trustees passed the motion.

The Village Trustees meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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