At a time when policing and law enforcement are being scrutinized across the country and the world, Montpelier has been moving in what retiring Chief of Police, Anthony “Tony” Facos, believes is a positive direction—a direction he assures is reflected in and will be further propelled by the incoming chief, Brian Peete.
Facos retires July 1 from a 33-year career with the Montpelier Police Department, serving for the past 13 years as the chief. In the immediate term, he is planning to unwind and indulge some of his favorite recreational interests: mountain biking and motorcycling. “I’m not in a hurry to jump into something else right now,” he said.
His Montpelier roots run deep. After graduating from Montpelier schools, Facos attended Norwich University, where his childhood interest in public service and his undergraduate degree in liberal studies led to post-graduate certification in Criminal Justice at the University of Virginia and a Master of Arts degree in Diplomacy/International Relations at Norwich.
The breadth of his education has been expressed in advocacy and accomplishment by collaborating with social service and mental health organizations to provide appropriate response to community needs. To deal effectively with the challenge of a growing homeless population, he notes the important support of the Good Samaritan Haven and Rick DeAngelis, its current executive director.
“With the arrival of the pandemic and the urgent need to close the overnight shelter at Bethany Church, finding housing at the Econolodge for 45 to 50 people each night was critical,” Facos said. He also observed that the homeless population has shifted in Montpelier, now including several people who were previously in Burlington or Barre. The problem that brings the attention of the police is when, “Some folks who choose not to use an established shelter” end up on private property.
A priority for the department is to direct people to the services that are available—significantly Washington County Mental Health, which Facos calls, “A true partner.” In the longer term, he envisions having a social worker position in the police department, beginning in July 2021, that would focus on getting people into the services they need.
Facos said that the bicycle patrols, delayed this spring by the shutdown, will be back on the downtown streets soon. He began the then-novel bicycle patrol unit in 1993, with fellow officer Dick Cleveland. It’s a tradition of community engagement that has increasingly guided his management and training of the Montpelier force.
In light of the current calls around the country to defund the police, Facos is confident that the Montpelier department has been investing its time and resources well. “It’s a complex situation. Are we providing the right resources for mental health, addiction recovery, homelessness? These problems are not necessarily criminal conduct,” he said.
“As a community, we need to address early childhood development, what becomes of at-risk mothers. The endeavor is increasingly going to be to keep people out of the criminal judicial system by addressing problems with more appropriate, constructive responses. I take guidance from the 21st Century Policing training, an Obama Administration initiative, which I attended in 2015,” Facos said.
He added, “Where law enforcement has gone astray, changing the warrior image to that of the guardian is essential.”
At the same time, he feels that some of the complaints about “militarized” equipment used by police departments are overstated and unrealistic. “You wouldn’t expect firefighters to do their job without appropriate, protective equipment. For police officers there are circumstances, the threat of armed violence, when a threat requires the protection of heavy-duty body armor,” he said.
But Facos does not foresee Montpelier Police Department requiring what are described as “tactical vehicles.”
“Montpelier does not have an armored vehicle, but they are available through the State Police 1033 program for tactical vehicles.” On the one occasion Montpelier requested use of the armored vehicle, “It did make it possible to get negotiators close enough to the individual to try to de-escalate the situation,” he said.