Police departments are facing dramatic cuts due to threats from social justice groups and COVID-19, and two police chiefs in Montpelier — one retired and one new on the job — say the trend will have a negative impact on communities.
Montpelier’s new police chief, Brian Peete, told True North he doesn’t agree with calls for defunding or disarming the department.
“I think it’s entirely not the correct thing to do,” he said. “That’s not to say that the police departments and agencies nationwide don’t have work to do, that we don’t have things to address. There is a systemic culture issue and we need to address it.”
Peete, who is the former police chief for Alamogordo, New Mexico, started his job as Montpelier’s top cop at the beginning of the month. Now age 44, he has served in the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant and also worked as a crime prevention and information center analyst for the Chicago Police Department. He is Vermont’s first black police chief.
Peete cautioned against making broad generalizations about police, and said taking officers off the street will create more crime victims.
“We need to remember that you can’t paint the entire spectrum with the same brush,” he said. “We need to remember that there are victims out there as well — there are people who are a victim of crime, there are people who are victims of violent crimes.
“These things have to be discussed based on the specific communities that the police departments operate and function in. Montpelier is going to have an entirely different set of issues and challenges than Minneapolis is going to have.”
Residents in Montpelier have called for defunding their police force in recent weeks. In Burlington, members of the city council passed a resolution to reduce that city’s force by 30 percent, capping officers at 74 — down from the prior cap of 105.
According to Tony Facos, the outgoing former head of the Montpelier Police Department, the city’s force has already been hit with financial strain due to COVID-19.
“All the departments have been working hard as a team here to look at ways to make up $1.5 million in anticipated deficits due to COVID-19, mostly because of the loss in revenue,” he told True North. “I certainly can tell you that it has impacted the city of Montpelier and our police department.”
Facos served as the city’s chief for 13 years. Prior to that he was an auxiliary state trooper. His combined service to the community has spanned 35 years.
Activists who have called for defunding police have recommended shifting funds and tasks to social workers. Facos said he doesn’t think those alternative services will be able to fill the gaps in what police provide.
“I do not think it’s feasible,” he said. “When you are looking at some of the police reforms that the public and the country and law enforcement are jointly asking for … taking away resources — especially if those other components of social services are not ready to go or funded effectively — is very near-sighted.”
Facos said when someone is in danger in the middle of the night, police remain the first line of defense.
“So at 3:00 in the morning, when there’s a mental health call, an addiction-related issue, people call the police because there’s nobody else they can call and provide them assistance at that hour,” he said.
He added that the negative perception of policing in the news is also hurting recruiting efforts.
“There’s been a steady decline and a huge challenge across the country in recruiting and retention,” he said.
Police officers across the country have been speaking out about the difficulties of policing communities that are against them, or even trying to hurt them. One officer from Georgia, identified only as “Stacey,” made a video about how stressful the work can be within this political climate.
“I’m too nervous to take a meal from McDonald’s because I can’t see it being made,” she said in distress. “Please just give us a break. I don’t know how much more I can take.”
While groups like Black Lives Matter push a narrative that police are killing blacks at alarming rates, statistics cited in the Washington Post blog The Volokh Conspiracy show white officers are less likely to shoot minorities. Moreover, officers are nearly 20 times more likely to be killed on the job by black assailants than the other way around. “An officer’s chance of getting killed by a black assailant is 18.5 times higher than the chance of an unarmed black getting killed by a cop,” the blog reports.