To the Chester Selectboard and community members:
Good evening and thank you for your service. I am here for one reason: Police advisory committee!
I have lost count as to the amount of times I have asked the selectboard and Julie Hance Chester Town manager to begin this process. Last Jan./Feb. I was told after the town budget passed. Then I was told after a police study was conducted. This year I am told after the police union contract is finalized.
It is time to put this on the Selectboard agenda. Burlington, Barre, Bennington, and Montpelier are some of the towns which already have an advisory or oversight committee. The Montpelier Police Review Committee published a comprehensive and professional report on strategies to improve police transparency and accountability, which includes the sharing of data, Fair and Impartial Policing assessment, officer misconduct, and oversight on the purchase of militarization equipment. Also included is the recommendation for increased investments in community support programs such as police embedded social workers, or a crisis management team functioning with the police on calls.
Last year our town paid a $50,000 dollar settlement to a man who was pulled over with a gun simply for driving while black. Was the Chester Police Department held accountable for breaking the Fair and Impartial Policing law? No, they were not. Selectboard Chair Arne Jonynas apologized and no internal complaint was filed against the two officers involved. No internal compliant, no record on file. For one of those officers, the Chief failed to report this use of a forced stop to the state.
This is just one example of what we the public know about, because the Vermont Human Rights Commission found unanimously that the CPD had violated Vermont’s Fair and Impartial Policing state law.
We now have a holding cell in our quaint little town. No state law exists for municipal holding cells. How do we know the CPD is following their own holding cell policy? I would hate to see a holding cell incident that costs our town another $50,000 dollars, or worse, cost’s someone their life.
A FT officer is leaving in September. A police advisory committee could be part of the interview process for a new hire, or, perhaps we should we spend that money on a police embedded social worker.
We have a right to know what the police in this town are doing. Are they meeting the current needs of the community? Are they following the law? Are we helping or hurting the young people in this town; are we helping or hurting our folks with SUD or mental health conditions?
It is time to put this on the Selectboard agenda. Tell me what I should do to make this happen. I am formally requesting this to be put on the Chester Selectboard agenda before this summer.
Leslie M. Thorsen