Before I launch into this month’s content, I’ll note that last month’s article about goals and strategic planning was expertly written by Mayor Anne Watson despite my name on the byline.
Incidents around the country have pushed the issues of systemic racism and unjust police work into full view. Racism is an insidious evil which seemingly lurks in every corner of American society. The recent Black Lives Matter rally at the State House gave voice to very real fears, concerns, and anger from people of color living in an overwhelmingly white city and state. Unfortunately, we have heard these cries before over the years. While some progress has been made, it is crystal clear that much, much more work needs to be done.
The recent images of vicious and criminal behavior by police officers in other parts of the country, added to years of similar stories, have cast a dark shadow on the law enforcement profession as a whole. Some people have begun a call to “defund the police.” At one end of the spectrum this appears to mean diverting some police expenses to and/or supplementing funding for more social services. At the other end of the spectrum it appears to be calling for full abolition of police departments.
At the council meeting of June 10, individuals presented their vision for the Montpelier Police Department:
We demand the following:
- Remove police officers from the Montpelier school system.
- Permanently reduce the number of police officers immediately, starting with those who have used excessive force, such as the officer who fatally shot Mark Johnson in Montpelier last summer.
- Pass a resolution banning the procurement of military equipment and surveillance technology.
- Disarm the police.
- Divert funding from the disproportionately large police budget into the under-funded, volunteer-based Montpelier Community Justice Center.
- Arrange for budget shortfall resulting from COVID-19 to come exclusively out of the police budget, as not to disrupt other services that the city provides.
- Police unions keep officers from facing consequences. Decertify and disband the police union and do not enter into any further collective bargaining agreements with organizations that represent the police.
- Work toward creating new structures of justice, emergency response, and conflict resolution with the ultimate goal of abolishing the police.
The City Council, the Police Department, retiring Chief Tony Facos, incoming Chief Brian Peete, city staff and I all welcome the opportunity to engage with the community about Montpelier’s policing and positive changes that can be made for the future. To begin a more complete conversation, we are providing information about the Montpelier Police Department.
President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Policing issued a 2014 report identifying six pillars of 21st Century Policing—the best practices for law enforcement. The Montpelier Police Department has fully embraced this 21st century policing model.
MPD established the following vision, mission, and values as guidance for everything it does:
- Vision: The vision of the Montpelier Police Department is to provide exemplary police service to the residents, workers, and visitors of Montpelier in order to provide a safe and healthy environment.
- Mission: The Montpelier Police Department, in partnership with the community, is committed to the preservation of peace, prevention of crime, enforcement of the law, protection of individual rights, and serving all with dignity and respect.
- Core Values: Integrity; Courage; Fairness; Knowledge; Compassion; Professionalism
The Montpelier Police Department holds itself to the high standards of 21st Century Policing into practice. Here are just a very few of the ways that the MPD embodies the pillars of 21st Century Policing:
Pillar One: Trust and Legitimacy
The MPD remains committed to supporting addiction reduction/recovery by implementing Project Safe Catch, a joint project between the MPD and Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services, Washington County Mental Health, Central Vermont Addiction Medicine, and the Emergency Department at the Central Vermont Medical Center. The core goal of Project Safe Catch is to connect addicts with the support they need.
The MPD supports the Community Justice Center, working with victims and ensuring their well-being, while also promoting a restorative justice framework for our community.
MPD are state leaders in the implementation of Act 80 and Team Two Mental Health efforts. Since 2004, Act 80 has provided training for law enforcement that focuses on preparing officers for assisting those in a mental health crisis. The MPD was the first department in Vermont to achieve 100 percent Act 80 training. Team Two is a collaborative training between law enforcement and mental health crisis responders to prepare police officers and mental health professionals to work together in crisis situations at the street level. The City of Montpelier pioneered this training with Washington County Mental Health and created a national model for this type of partnership.
Pillar Two: Policy and Oversight
The City of Montpelier is currently placing all police department policies online and available for instant review by the public.
MPD officers train on up-to-date policies on Fair and Impartial Policing, Response to Resistance (Use of Force), and mental health crisis response, among others
Records of citizen complaints and commendations of officers are available at City Hall and at the police department.
All MPD supervisors receive specialized training on policy supervision and leadership, including formalized training in conducting internal audit complaints.
Pillar Three: Technology and Social Media
The MPD maintains and regularly updates its Facebook page providing important information to the public beyond formal press releases.
Full police logs are made available weekly.
The MPD fully complies with race data reporting requirements.
Pillar Four: Community Policing
The MPD encourages open discussion of problems and concerns from residents and strives to implement possible solutions.
The MPD believes in its partnership with schools with an effective SRO program, and focuses on a holistic approach to child well-being while helping the school prepare for school safety disasters using the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training methodology.
The MPD has also been very active in hosting and participating in community events, such as Coffee with a Cop.
MPD officers work directly with our area’s homeless populations to provide resources and develop a positive rapport with them.
MPD operates a Bike Patrol program, getting officers out of cars and into the community.
Pillar Five: Training and Education
MPD officers go through an annual use-of-force and de-escalation training, and firmly believe these issues go hand-in-hand.
MPD officers are given training in implicit bias and cultural competency
Officers may receive specialized training and conferences (for example, trainings focused on preventing child sexual abuse, special investigations, leadership and supervision, risk management for law enforcement, crisis/hostage negotiation training, school safety, etc.).
Officers receive first aid training that includes the use of NARCAN, AEDs, CPR, and Advanced First Aid.
The city provides opportunities for college tuition reimbursement for our officers, allowing them to expand their education.
Pillar Six: Officer and Dispatcher Wellness
The MPD has created a working relationship with two psychologists to provide support for officers on issues such as compounded trauma and PTSD.
The MPD has implemented a peer support program for volunteers for both police and dispatch.
Annual PT test with incentive, to try to ensure both mental and physical fitness for duty.
The MPD’s budget is proportionate to other Montpelier departments, such as DPW and the Fire/EMS. Much of the budget goes to personnel, which not only includes officers, but also support staff and the dispatch center that serves police, fire and EMS services throughout the county.
89 percent of police budget funds are allocated to personnel costs. MPD has 17 full-time police officers, and almost 8 Dispatchers (some are part time). One administrative staff person is shared with the Fire Department. The 17 officers include the Chief, the Captain, the School Resource Officer, and Two Detectives. This leaves 12 sergeants, corporals and patrol officers to cover 24 hours of shifts, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. During most times only 2–4 officers are on duty.
Only 11 percent of the police’s budget goes to operating costs. Vehicles and other equipment are included in the city’s equipment budget and balanced against all equipment needs for all departments. There is no specific police equipment allocation.
Other relevant budget items include:
- The City Council provided $33,750 for FY21, in part to expand a Street Outreach Position, which is a peer support worker for our homeless population.
- The MPD budget includes the addition of a WCMHS social worker who will be shared between the City of Barre’s police department and the MPD.
- The City Council approved $10,000 for the Social & Economic Justice Advisory Committee to hire a consultant to assist the city in reviewing its overall policies and procedures for unintended bias and other unintended negative impacts.
We will continue providing this type of information about the MPD in this and other forums. In closing, I congratulate Chief Tony Facos on his retirement. Chief Facos has helped shape MPD as one of the, if not the, best departments in Vermont. He has guided the department toward more modern ways of thinking, addressing issues, and working with the community. Thank you Chief for a great career.
Thank you for your interest in the City of Montpelier and for reading this article. Please contact me with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-223-9502.
Text paid for by City of Montpelier.