"Police Line Do Not Cross"

GENERAL ELECTION — How does Chittenden County address crime? Is there a program with policing that needs reform? How would you address community safety?

The following are the CHI-22, CHI-23 and CHI-24 candidate responses to the above question on crime in Chittenden County during the forums hosted by Town Meeting TV. A majority of the candidates support both police and restorative justice in the communities they wish to serve.

Editor's note: The Essex Police Department has not been defunded. They have received more funding, according to municipal budget documents. Statements claiming they have been defunded are false.

CHI-22 Rep. Lori Houghton (D-Essex Junction)

“I firmly believe in the work of the restorative justice center. I firmly believe in the work that the police do,” Houghton said.

Houghton supports the Essex Community Justice Center and also believes in supporting crime prevention efforts like mental health services and providing safe spaces within the community.

CHI-22 Rep. Karen Dolan (D-Essex Junction)

The justice system is Dolan’s area of focus with her current work at the Essex Community Justice Center and her previous experience as a service provider at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

“It really provided me with an in-depth understanding of our justice system. When looking at how crime is addressed in Chittenden County, I feel like the key word there is the ‘county’ piece of it, because a lot of folks might not realize that [crime] is different from county to county and Vermont,” Dolan said.

Dolan appreciates the state’s value of local input, but feels the government needs to balance the responsibility and provide a baseline level of services or justice tools each community can access to ensure there is equity across the state.

“In Chittenden County, we're really fortunate we have a lot of the tools available to us…Such as restorative justice, justice, drug courts, the traditional sentencing method, methadone clinics, court diversion, the list goes on for that,” Dolan said. 

Along with addressing crime after it happens, Dolan said Vermont needs to aid those who are harmed by crime and ensure safety net systems are not overwhelmed because that leads to strain in the criminal justice system. 

“This is really essential because crime is a complicated issue,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of crime is non-violent crime, and it's rooted in system gaps around poverty, around mental health, substance use or there's inequities in the system.”

Looking ahead, Dolan wants to focus on building up the safety nets which she said will lead to less crime and better served community members.

CHI-22 - Seth Adam Manley, Republican candidate 

“Obviously, violence, violent crimes have gone up tremendously, especially over the last few years,” Manley said. “They always talk about causation versus the root cause. But obviously, we can say, well, since we defunded the police, these crimes have gone up endlessly.”

Manley said it’s important to look at enforcing laws and to better support the Vermont education system so Vermont children can have hope for their futures.

“I can definitely compromise with the ladies about finding and attacking the root causes for the crime, rather than taking care of it afterwards,” Manley said.

One of the problems Manley feels is perpetuating crime in Vermont is crime from the bigger cities in the southern part of the state being imported to the Northern part of the state.

CHI-23 - Denis White, Republican candidate

“Well, there's a large sector of the population that is getting shortchanged by this defund the police fad,” White said. “The hard working taxpayers are not getting their money's worth and that is socially unjust.”

White feels the police have reformed over the past couple of years and now it’s time to return to “good old fashioned law and order.”

“When I was a young fellow, I had my share of run-ins with Johnny law and that's the norm at that age,” White said. “You know, being a long haired loudmouth know-it-all. But as you age and you have a family and you acquire property and a house, you learn to appreciate law enforcement more and how important they are.”

White said he wholeheartedly supports the police, the emergency responders and the role they play in public safety. 

CHI-23 Rep. Rey Garofano (D-Essex)

Garafano first spoke to correct White on how the Essex Police Department has not been defunded, they have received more funding. Garafano believes in the work police do in Essex along with the restorative work done by the Community Justice Center.

“When you look at criminal justice, where you have to look at the root cause of the problem, and this country, I think, has not invested in creating a social safety net for vulnerable people,” Garofano said.

When folks have substance use disorders, when they have mental health challenges, when they have a housing crisis or food insecurity. We don't have an easy way for those folks to access help and support which often leads to problems and involvement with the criminal justice system. 

When systems do not provide easy aid to people with substance use disorders, mental health needs, those experiencing housing crisis or food insecurity, it can lead to problems involving the criminal justice system, Garfano said.

“There's been a lot of good work happening, so I want to see more of that,” she said. “I don't oppose restructuring the funding, so maybe more funding goes to mental health services or restorative justice or substance use prevention.”

Garafano said police services are often requested for situations they aren’t equipped to handle, which isn’t fair to them or the person experiencing the crisis.

CHI-23 - Leonora Doge, Democratic candidate

Dodge agreed with the points Garafano made. She feels it’s important to support the law enforcement but also not to expect the police to become the last resort for every issue. Dodge cites Essex BEST as an example organization to support.

“Building Equity, Solidarity and Trust, I think we need all of those things we need to build the trust we need to know that whether you're black, brown, or white that you can call the police and when you have a problem and not end up becoming the problem,” Dodge said.

Dodge cited a study done by UVM economist Stephanie Seguino who analyzed 800,000 traffic stops over five years which found police in Vermont stop a person of color three to nine times more often than a white person and they only found contraband in the white driver’s cars.

“We can't forget that we all, in this country, have a bias. Whether you're an educator or police or a health care provider,” Dodge said. “So it's important to take that into account when thinking about police work and police reform.”

CHI-23 - Maryse Dunbar, Republican candidate

“First of all, I want to thank you, Rey, for enlightening me that we have not defunded the police in Essex, but I feel that defunding the police in Burlington has proven to cause problems,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said she feels criminals think they can do whatever they want and hears of new crimes almost every day and a solution to this is to give respect back to the police and prosecute those who have committed crimes.

“We have to figure out a way to make a penalty so strong that they'll think twice before they commit a crime,” Dunbar said. “That would bear some research. But to me upfront as a legislator, I would just fund anything that supports the police and bring some sort of information to the criminals that they will not get away with this.”

CHI-24 Rep. Alyssa Black (D-Essex)

“The overwhelming majority of crime is non-violent, and it's really rooted in the gaps of care that we have in our communities,” Black said.

Black supports the variety of methods used to address crime in Chittenden County such as restorative justice, drug courts and traditional sentencing courts.

“Having all of these tools are really essential because crime is a really complicated issue,” she said.

CHI-24 - Roger Drury, Republican candidate 

Drury feels the police are well trained, hard working and understaffed and have been put in a “no-win” situation.

“Our politicians have created a situation where citizens do not trust the police, and there are some understandable reasons why. But at the same token, putting up rhetoric, calling our police names, and defunding them is not the right and proper way to address some of the problems that we're having,” Drury said.

Drury feels criminals need to be in a situation where they feel there are repercussions for their actions, which she does not think Chittenden County holds.

“That being said, I fully support restorative justice. I think it's an important component in law enforcement, as well as paying back to the community,” Drury said.

Written By

Staff Writer

Kate Vanni | she/her/hers | Reporter | Kate covers Town of Essex and City of Essex Junction municipal meetings, schools and local businesses through written and visual storytelling. Reach her at (802)-448-0253

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(1) comment

Steve Vanni

[thumbup] Essential work here and nicely done helping to convey as complete a picture as possible from candidates to voters, including voters who missed the original event

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