Montpelier residents call for defunding police

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Some Montpelier residents are joining with those in Burlington calling for the defunding of the police. A few dozen people phoned into the Montpelier City Council meeting calling for cuts to the police department’s budget.

Councilor Conor Casey says the council wants to wait until new Police Chief Brian Peete gets sworn in next week before having conversations on police reform and the future role of police in Montpelier.

While reading from the exact same script, Montpelier residents like Constantinos Stivaros echoed demands to abolish the police.

"We’re happy that the council acknowledges that there are benefits to relying less on armed individuals to respond to calls for assistance from the community," Stivaros said.

"We ask now that you actively work toward the goal of creating structures that will eventually take the place of the police department," said Claire Costin.

Casey says he welcomes the community engagement.

“We’re not about slogans on the council," he said. "We’re about doing the right thing. And we embrace activists who come in."

Casey says the council isn’t ready just yet to talk about whether to pull money from the police department. They’re waiting for Peete to be sworn in next week. Councilors believe Peete, who is Black, will bring a new perspective to the city government.

"As a Black man who grew up in Chicago, he’s going to come in with different experiences than ourselves," Casey said. "Rather than have that discussion before he arrived, we really wanted to honor him and he comes with wanting to have broad community discussions on this."

In an email Thursday, Peete told WCAX he is not in favor of abolishing police departments. "Despite our best hopes and efforts, violent crimes like domestic violence, sexual assaults, robberies and burglaries, active shooters and terrorist threats exist and police officers must respond to them," he said.

In an earlier letter to Montpelier residents, Peete, said he is open to having a dialogue about the racial strife the country is facing. “There are tough robust conversations coming about how to face and deal with the issues within our country and its institutions and I look forward to not only having them but acting on them,“ he said.

Casey says Montpelier is facing an estimated $1.4 million budget deficit due to COVID-19, so cuts will likely be made, but the council is still deciding where exactly to make those cuts.