It’s difficult to engage with the community while under a 14-day quarantine thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that will change this week as incoming Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete begins work alongside retiring Chief Tony Facos.
Peete is a believer in the tenets of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing task force and plans to spend his first month meeting with every member of the city’s police force and with any resident, organization, or stakeholder group that wants to chat. The task force model calls for community-based policing that includes the building of trust and legitimacy; policy and oversight; technology and social media; community policing and crime reduction; training and education; and officer safety and wellness.
“I want to do a listening circuit,” Peete said. “I will set times to meet with every person in the department and if a church or organization wants to invite me I will go. I will also be setting hours to sit and listen to how we can unite to handle whatever issues come up. I plan to have wide availability.”
Peete, a Chicago native, was selected from a field of 19 candidates after review by City Manager Bill Fraser, city staff, police officials, and a panel of six outside stakeholders. The 44-year-old former U.S. Air Force captain was most recently chief of police in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a city of about 32,000 people located about 90 miles north of El Paso, Texas.
He said he believes the Montpelier Police Department is “squared away” and well-positioned to be a model for community policing.
“Based on what I know, what I’ve seen, and who I’ve spoken to, the department is in great shape and I’m looking forward to working with the department and then opening up that national dialog to help the state be a national leader in what policing can be,” he said.
Policing is the Peete family business—his parents are retired Chicago police officers, Peete is a former Chicago Police Department officer, and his brother still works there.
Peete said one of the main issues in law enforcement is the increasing intersection of police and the mentally ill. Officers are often forced to be first responders in crisis situations and must be trained to recognize and help diffuse tensions, he said.
“One of the best practices in confronting mental illness crises is to establish a mobile crisis response team,” he said. “A unit that has a combination of law enforcement and mental health service providers and professionals that respond to crisis-related calls. Officers come to ensure the scene is safe, not wearing traditional uniforms because that can be a source of contention depending on the situation, but working to de-escalate the situation and work on getting treatment. That’s the best way to increase safety for everybody.”
Montpelier and Barre residents voted in March to financially support a social worker position to be shared by their respective police departments. Money for the position is also expected from Washington County Mental Health, City Manager Fraser said. The concept has existed for years but came into sharper relief following the fatal shooting of Mark Johnson by an MPD officer last summer. No charges were filed against the officer in that incident.
Peete said the city of Alamogordo was working to create a crisis intervention training program, and that he intends to build a curriculum here that would be available to other Vermont departments, following approval by state public safety officials.
Peete said he supports body cameras and opposes restraint measures such as chokeholds, saying that technique is not taught. He said the current unrest over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man in Minneapolis, and others is indicative of the need for more community-based policing and the evolution of police culture.
“We need feedback and honest discussion with those we serve in the community and I think once we all love each other and understand each other things will continue to get better,” he said.
Peete served 15 months as chief in Alamogordo but resigned in November following a dispute with the former city manager there. Peete filed a whistleblower complaint against the manager, citing unprofessional relationships and preferential treatment within City Hall, according to published reports. He resigned following mediation and dropped a lawsuit he had filed against the city, reports said. Hundreds of residents appeared at public meetings on his behalf, reports said, and the city manager in question ultimately resigned.
Peete, who has a strong military background, said the politics in Alamogordo went against his personal integrity.
“There have been some administrative things that did not coalesce with how I was brought up, personally and professionally,” he said.
Montpelier city officials said they were aware of the circumstances of Peete’s resignation and because of it they became sold on his personal integrity.
“I, personally, dug very deeply into the details and came away even more convinced that Brian Peete was the right choice for Montpelier,” Fraser said. “The political and administrative environment created by Alamogordo’s city officials conflicted with his personal and professional ethics. Chief Peete’s commitment to Alamogordo and its residents, and the overwhelming support he continues to have from that community, his previous employees, and other partner agencies became clear during the extensive vetting process. I heard over and over again, even from his critics, how effective he had been and how much he had improved the department. His integrity throughout the ordeal was inspiring.”
Peete began his career in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a lieutenant, captain, an assistant special agent-in-charge, and as a region manager for the Office of Special Investigations, according to a news release. His law enforcement career started with the Chicago Police Department, where he served as a crime prevention and information center analyst, a field training officer, and a patrolman. He also has worked as a chief investigator and chief forensic audit investigator for Police Accountability for the Office of the Inspector General in Chicago. He has a bachelor’s degree in Employment Relations from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in Police Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology.
Peete and his wife, Natalie, have a 6-year-old daughter, Gabriella, along with a cat and a German shepherd.
“We had a very strong group of finalists. Chief Peete, however, rose to the top among all of our review groups,” Fraser said in the release. “We are confident that Mr. Peete’s experience and dedication to the profession of law enforcement will immensely benefit the Montpelier Police Department and the Montpelier community. We look forward to his progressive and innovative approaches to improve our already excellent police department.”
Peete will earn $103,000 annually, the same amount as Facos, who will retire June 30.