I am wondering if you were all aware that the Chester Police Department has been in negotiations with the Town of Chester to form a police union. The union as reported in a November 2021 edition of the Chester Telegraph is NEPBA.
Since that article was printed, I have been wondering myself: did our town finalize the negotiation process? Is our police department unionized? According to that same article, Julie Hance, Chester Town Manager, was surprised that the local police wanted union representation. After all, she was quoted as saying “Chester police officers — like Chester employees overall — are fairly paid and have an excellent benefits package, which includes health care without premiums or co-pays.” Why haven’t we heard more about this process?
Last September, our town paid a $50,000 settlement for the Chester Police Department. Our police violated the state’s Fair and Impartial policing policy. The Vermont Human Rights Commission reviewed video footage and audio and concluded that this use of force stop was a violation of state law. Some of you may recall it was the head of the selectboard who apologized, and it was the town that paid. The officers involved had zero consequence for their unjustifiable action of using a gun to pull over an innocent man of color. A man who works full time and was on his way home from work to pick up his 7-year-old daughter.
This unlawful biased action will have a lasting impact on this man when he drives through Chester, and every other town in Vermont. Did the settlement money and an apology from a non-involved town official heal this harm? Wouldn’t it have been more meaningful for both the police involved and the motorist to have a face-to-face apology? Imagine the healing that could have occurred to both parties. The police get to see the real pain that they caused, and the driver may find it in his heart to forgive the perennial damage this continues to cause him. The fact that the police did not apologize, pay for the settlement, or suffer any consequence sets the stage for this behavior to occur again, or continue to occur as the case may be.
Astonishingly, this incident is not reflected in either police officer’s personnel file. As no complaint was filed internally, this was not reported to the Vermont Training Council, the oversight body of all that is policing in our state. Both officers have admonishing letters from the town manager “don’t do this again boys or else” …or else what? There are no discipline policies in the CPD manual, so I guess if this happens again, and they are caught, it will be just like the movie “Groundhog Day!”
At the end of March, I filed a complaint following the internal affairs complaint process as set out in the policy of the CPD. Their internal affairs algorithm notes that the complainant will receive a letter acknowledging that complaint from the chief of police and an investigation will be conducted within 30 days. I may be a bit rusty on my math, but as of this writing, I believe it has been 80 days since I logged my complaint. A complaint I felt was important to make so that this incident is in writing in the officer’s file. Not responding to my complaint in any way violates the following:
– Act 56 24 VSA 2401: Category C conduct is considered misconduct.
– (G) intentional failure to conduct a valid investigation or file a report as required by this subchapter.
So, back to the original point of this writing. Due to the settlement the town paid for the CPD’s violation of the Fair and Impartial policing violation, it was noted in the Chester Telegraph the following explanation for the CPD feeling the need for a union. According to Sean Mcardle, (NEPBA director for Vermont ) the police approached him because, “It’s for more protection in case of a critical incident or if there was a termination or a grievance.”
Hmm, trying to figure this out: the CPD had a critical incident with the use of force stop on a working man of color lawfully driving through town. The responsible officers were not suspended, or terminated, they did not lose vacation time or days off, or even a complaint in their file, yet they feel they need a union to protect them if they do this again?
The Governor issued an executive order for towns to form police advisory/oversight boards, and in the language of Act 56 the same is called for. This is a time for communication, inclusiveness, and transparency. Take down that blue wall. Open that blue door and let the community know what you do. Are there people we could be helping rather than hurting? What resources do we need to be a safe and sheltering town for all who live, work, and drive through here?
Town of Chester, start thinking about how we can have true public safety. We are not safer with more police, or more police secrecy. Police respond after a crime has been committed, with our current system they are not preventing crime. It is our responsibility to demand accountable transparent policing, and a partnership with the community. The chief of the CPD has a responsibility to do his job. Not responding to a police complaint is misconduct as described in Vermont statute. Is this failure to follow the law and review my complaint yet another form of bias policing? Are complaints only reviewed if they can be downgraded to a “concern” versus misconduct? Ask for a police oversight/advisory board, as a community we need police transparency.
Open that blue door!
Leslie M. Thorsen