MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is getting what is believed to be its first Black police chief at a time of protests in Vermont and nationwide over racial injustice and police brutality.
Brian Peete, the former police chief in Alamogordo, New Mexico, officially becomes police chief in Montpelier, the capital city of the largely white state, on Wednesday. He was chosen before the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and is believed by the city to be the first Black police chief in the state.
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling called the timing “fortuitous,” saying he arrived when “modernizing policing and confronting racism and bias in Vermont and beyond is so crucial.” In addition to his skills and experience he will “add perspective not directly available to our current cadre of law enforcement leaders,” said Schirling, a former police chief in Burlington, by email.
Peete said he’s encouraged and inspired by the protests — “it’s an entire generation, and it’s people from all walks of life, backgrounds, colors, everything that realize a need for systematic change across the spectrum.” Change is needed, he said, but he hopes the focus isn’t just on police departments.
Peete has been on the job since June 15 working alongside Chief Anthony Facos, who is retiring. He started two days after hundreds of people helped paint Black Lives Matter in huge letters on the street in Montpelier in front of the State House. The painting was smeared with mud, dirt and oil early the following day and graffiti was sprayed on the sidewalk that “referenced government spending” but did not appear to be directed at the mural, police said. Community members cleaned it up.
“There’s beauty in the fact so many people came to do this, that the government officials and the state and city came together to say, hey, this is something that we understand,” Peete said of the mural.
Noel Riby-Williams, a 20-year-old Black Montpelier resident, who organized the mural painting, and a recent protest over police brutality and racial injustice, said Peete’s hiring gives her hope. In the largely white state, a lot of Black children in Vermont don’t see themselves represented in positions, she said.
“I think a lot of little kids, Black little kids, when they see them in the streets or around they’re going to look up to him and see themselves in him and maybe one day if they want to be a police chief they can because there’s somebody else who has done that,” she said.
Peete, 44, served in the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant, captain, an assistant special agent in charge, and a region manager for the Office of Special Investigations. He then worked for the Chicago Police Department as a crime prevention and information center analyst, a field training officer, and a patrolman before becoming police chief in Alamogordo. But he left the department after a year and a half because of what he described as a crisis in leadership in the city.
“There was just difficulty for administration to do their work and … frustrations kind of rolled downhill, and then again what I consider fiscal mismanagement and just low morale,” he said.
Peete filed a complaint in court against the city and former city manager alleging breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violating whistleblower protections, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.
Kimmie Jordan, a certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner, who worked with Peete on crisis intervention training for the Alamagordo Police Department, called him “amazing” and “super motivated.”
“It’s not very often that you have a police officer with social work background and understanding mental health and the importance of being proactive in order to avoid police contact on the other end,” she said of Peete, who has a master’s degree in police psychology.
He also made good contacts within the community and made himself available, she said. “Everybody knew who he was, which is pretty cool,” she said.
After he left he was looking for a job in a family oriented place where he and his wife could raise their daughter with an administrative government that was community-service oriented and believed in transparency and accountability, he said. He also wanted to work for a police department that had support and was embracing 21st century policing practices, which, among other things, focus on building community trust. Montpelier fit the bill, he said.
“He impressed all with his demeanor, knowledge, leadership skills, breadth of experience and emphasis on mental health awareness and response,” said Montpelier City Manager William Fraser.
As chief, Peete said he’s focused on listening to the community.
“We’re going to work on talking and listening, primarily listening to everybody within the community and making ourselves, making myself available to hear feedback,” he said.