The Montpelier, Vermont Police Review Committee held a public forum this week to get input on public safety and policing in the city. The meeting is part of a process of developing a report for the City Council.
In late October 2020 the Montpelier City Council formed the Police Review Committee to look at the functions of the police department, assess current trends and practices in policing, review the department’s most significant issues and collect feedback from stakeholders. Committee Chair Alyssa Schuren explained the purpose of the committee. “We are charged with understanding the current police practices, defining best practices for community safety really broadly, looking at where the Montpelier Police Department is already trying to go and comparing that to best practices and then making recommendations on gaps or changes that are needed. We’re trying to do that because there’s so many different policing topics through the lens of what stakeholders in Montpelier really care about.”
The virtual meeting was then opened to public comment. Elaine Ball works in Montpelier and immediately brought up concerns echoed by a number of people. “I wanted to express concern for a couple of incidents that have happened but I feel that the outcomes have been really disappointing and disheartening. And that is the shooting that killed a member of the community with a mental health concern a couple of years ago. And also more recently an incident in January with protesters who came to the state Capital and attacked a young teenager and that no charges would be filed against the men who attacked her. So I think that there are ongoing problems.”
But resident Bodgan Laurentiu said the first incident referenced by Ball was more nuanced. “Regarding the shooting of the member of the community that had mental illness an important part that individual had the fake gun in his hands. So how should the police acted in that situation? Because from a distance you cannot tell if the gun is real or if the gun is not real. So how or what could have been done differently?”
Montpelier resident Dvora Jonas asked about use of force policies. “Why use deadly force rather than a taser? Wouldn’t that have the same effect of immobilizing someone where there was a danger without destroying them?”
Committee member Michael Sherman responded. “Four or five years ago the police chief did come forward with a suggestion that the force, the officers, carry tasers. There was a lot of disagreement about that. The chief withdrew the request and that’s where it stood. Now that’s five years ago. We have been looking at alternatives to use of force in some specific things. But it is something that has been discussed at least once in recent years and could be discussed again.”
Resident Steve Whitaker feels the commission should assess if the Montpelier Police Department fits the needs of the community. “I am not an advocate for abolition or elimination or defunding recklessly. It’s just not right sized for our community. We should be designing an intentional transition to a realm of public services that are more attuned to the needs of the mentally ill, the needs of the homeless. But instead what we’ve got is this overbearing, overstaffed and over-expensive system.”
City resident Dave Bellini is a labor advocate who has worked with law enforcement agencies. “As a labor advocate it is my opinion that if you want the best police force, fire force, anything you have to attract the right people. How do you do that? You pay the most and you have the best benefits.”
The Montpelier Police Review Committee must submit a report to the city council by June 30th.