Tag Archives: Chuck Kirker

How Many Merkels?

Get a load of this mook, all tac’d up like he patrols the Mean Streets of Detroit or summat

The tiny city of Vergennes is in an uproar, largely due to disagreements over its police department, which is led by George Merkel, the guy pictured above. Dude does love him some tactical gear, doesn’t he?

You wouldn’t know from his outlandish getup that he keeps the peace in a city of only 2,601 with vanishingly small rates of violent crime. You wouldn’t know that the vast majority of police calls are for things like noise complaints. I bet all that gear comes in handy when there’s a cat up a tree, eh, Chief?

You probably could guess that Merkel has come under fire for unapologetically regressive policing. I mean, he looks like he’s about one second away from Tasing the cameraman.

It’s bad enough that Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton filed a report accusing Merkel of multiple misdeeds, to wit: (1) signing official documents with “patently false information,” (2) knowingly failing to report demographic data on VPD traffic stops, and (3) falsely reporting work time and collecting double pay as a result.

(Newton’s report originated in a February meeting that included then-Vergennes mayor Jeff Fritz, an unnamed city alderman, and a sheriff’s officer who formerly served under Merkel. The four, according to VTDigger, “described Merkel as being out of control.”)

Never fear! Attorney General TJ Donovan, the persistent protector of law enforcement, has reviewed a Vermont State Police probe of Newton’s report and concluded — you’ll be shocked, I know — that “there is no evidence to suggest that Chief Merkel acted with intent to defraud” in reporting his work time, and that this concludes concludes “all ongoing investigations regarding Chief Merkel.”

Donovan’s press release — a Friday afternoon newsdump — made no mention of the other two allegations against Merkel. The most serious, to me, is the failure to report demographic data on traffic stops. The Vergennes PD, after all, has a record of racial bias in traffic policing that’s among the worst in Vermont. So there’s a real bad odor around Merkel’s failure to report pertinent data on nearly two-thirds of all his force’s traffic stops in a two-year period.

I guess Donovan, or the VSP, ignored that? The press release is silent.

Donovan’s inaction leaves the city of Vergennes a broken place. Some residents fear the police and want Merkel gone; others support their longtime chief to the hilt.

This may seem outlandish, and uncharacteristic of small-town Vermont society with its vaunted community ties and cherished slash fetishized Town Meeting Day traditions. But there are other Merkels out there. The only questions are, how many? And, since nobody in officialdom seems willing to face this issue, what do we do about it?

Keeping in mind that every unjustified, race-inspired traffic stop is a stab in the heart to our BIPOC neighbors, a disincentive for people to relocate to Vermont, and a stain on our state’s reputation.

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Mayberry follies

Nice long story in yesterday’s Burlington Free Press on the Colchester Police Department, one year after the shocking arrest of veteran officer Tyler Kinney, who was allegedly stealing drugs, guns and money from the evidence room he was responsible for. Reporter Elizabeth Murray chronicled the struggles of Chief Jennifer Morrison in bringing the department’s policies and procedures up to date.

Nice, so far as it went. But there was one person completely absent from the story who should have played a substantial role.

Chuck Kirker.

For those just joining us, Kirker had served in the Colchester Police Department for 43 years, and had been Chief for 34 years when he retired in 2013. And, to judge by the Kinney case and yesterday’s Free Press piece, he was doing a terrible job.

The Colchester Police Department (not exactly as illustrated)

Chief Kirker and company (not exactly as illustrated)

During his tenure on the force, the CPD grew from four staffers to 28. But apparently he was still running the place like Andy of Mayberry. Many departmental policies, Murray reports, “hadn’t been updated in 20 years or more.” Morrison has led the department through “multiple rounds of training and leadership development.” Evidence storage has been completely overhauled, with security cameras, a bar-coding system, tamper-proof evidence bags, and a double-locking system that doesn’t allow anyone to have solo access to the room. And:

Personnel evaluations also have become more regular, and employees have been allowed to give feedback on the evaluation process to refine the system. Before Kinney’s arrest, no one had received an evaluation in 20 years.

Yikes: no personnel evaluations for 20 years? That helps explain how Tyler Kinney could have kept control of the CPD’s evidence storage for several years before his gross malfeasance was brought to light.

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