The Warren Select Board plans to hold a discussion on policing at its next Zoom meeting on Tuesday, August 25. Members of the public are encouraged to come and speak about their own experiences with law enforcement in Warren, positive or negative.
The idea to host a discussion on policing came after the Warren Select Board received a letter from the Vermont State Police (VSP) stating that the department is fundamentally reexamining its approach to law enforcement. The letter said that this reexamination was inspired by the national protests over the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man who died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. In the letter, Middlesex station commander Lieutenant David White said that the VSP is seeking to “ensure that all people are treated fairly, equally and with dignity and respect.”
When discussing the letter at a meeting on August 11, Warren Select Board members seemed eager to help the VSP with its mission to improve law enforcement practices. “We’re all on the front lines when it comes to how policing gets done in this country,” said select board chair Andrew Cunningham. “What we want is good policing done well. It’s straightforward to me, but it isn’t to everyone. I’m a white male and I probably get a different deal when I get stopped by the cops than others do.”
However, board members also acknowledged that improving policing in Warren may need to encompass broader improvements than race relations alone, since Warren is not a diverse place. “We’re not a very culturally diverse community,” said select board member Camilla Behn, who suggested that the board reflect on how police officers handle domestic violence issues in the community.
“I’ve always felt badly for police men and women who get charged with having to deal with domestic violence and domestic issues, which isn’t their task really,” said select board member Randy Graves, picking up on Behn’s sentiment. “Somehow I think its gotten twisted about defunding police. In my mind, that’s not a correct thing. Rather it should about be funding methods to intervene with domestic violence that maybe work in conjunction with state and local police.”
To this, emergency management director and constable Campbell pointed out that there is already a program run by the state called “Team Two,” where police work with therapists on domestic violence mitigation strategies. In general, Campbell was worried about holding a public forum on policing. “I don’t want this to turn into a ‘let’s bash the police’ meeting,” he said.
Despite Campbell’s concerns, the board decided to pursue a plan to hold a community discussion on policing for its next select board meeting. “I think we can handle being civil and polite,” said Cunningham. “If they’re not reasonable, they can be asked to leave.”