Tag Archives: Jennifer Morrison

Straw Men and Uppity Women (UPDATED)

So the big question on #vtpoli Twitter today was: Did Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling call Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky “uppity”?

Short answer: Yeah, kinda.

See note below: Schirling has issued a kinda-apology.

It happened in a Thursday hearing by the House Judiciary and Government Operations committees, to consider a statewide use-of-force policy for law enforcement personnel. I didn’t monitor the hearing live, but after seeing some outraged tweets, I listened to the passage in question. (One of the benefits of the Zoom Legislature is that all hearings are streamed live, and archived, on YouTube. I hope they continue the practice after We All Return To Whatever Normal Is.)

Vyhovsky and Schirling had a lengthy colloquy about current policy and practice. She questioned whether police should be trained, “first and foremost,” in de-escalation tactics instead of resorting to force. Schirling acknowledged the need to review training practices, but said her premise (that police use force more often than they should because of the training they receive) was dead wrong.

I’ll go through the confab in more detail after the jump, but first we’ll cut to the chase. At the end of the back-and-forth, Schirling made reference to “the somewhat uppity exchange that the Representative and I had.” He paused before “uppity.” I think he was searching for the right word. He chose the wrong one.

He did not actually refer to Vyhovsky as “uppity,” but that’s how he characterized their discussion. The problem is, “uppity” is often used to describe women or people of color who don’t “know their place.” It definitely has a pejorative connotation. And I doubt he would characterize himself as “uppity.”

Schirling committed another offense, albeit a very common one, elsewhere in the exchange. He consistently misinterpreted Vyhovsky’s points and instead whaled away at straw men of his own devising. He didn’t take her arguments seriously. Which is a subtler kind of sexism than calling someone “uppity.”

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The Collar and the Badge

In recent days, we’ve seen defensive protestations from two separate former Burlington police chiefs. The above comes from former chief and now rebranded 21st Century policing expert Brandon del Pozo. The second is in the resignation announcement of Jennifer Morrison, who tied her departure to the too-tough oversight by the busybodies on City Council.

In some ways I can sympathize. Burlington is a tough city for policing, never more so than right now. Progressives on City Council and community advocates often go over the top in their demands and their tactics. And as del Pozo noted in another tweet, many of the top cops who’ve resigned or been forced out across the country are among the more progressive members of that breed. To be sure, life is easier for the George Merkels and Paul Doucettes of the world, who rule the roost in communities that let the cops have their way.

For purposes of this blogpost, I am not questioning the good intentions of del Pozo or Morrison. But here’s the problem: Much like the Roman Catholic Church, the policing profession has forfeited the benefit of the doubt. There are far too many bad apples — and you know the real truth about bad apples is that unless they are removed, they spoil the barrel. In both professions, the bad apples have been allowed to remain.

The vast majority of Catholic priests and, for the sake of argument, top Church administrators operate faithfully, with good intentions. But the bad apples were protected, and the Church continues to pay a price. Who can take the Church seriously as a moral arbiter?

Winning back the lost trust will take several decades of good behavior and strict adherence to moral principles and the law. The same is now true of the policing profession — except they are still racking up fresh deficits.

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The most pertinent questions about the Colchester cop

I sense the fine handiwork of the WPTZ graphics department.

I sense the fine handiwork of the WPTZ graphics department.

Every time I read about the case of Tyler Kinney, the Colchester officer who faces federal drug and gun charges, the same thing keeps coming to mind.

How in the blue hell did this go on so long?

Here’s a guy who was on the force for twelve years, and occupied one of its most sensitive positions — keeper of the evidence locker — for two and a half years. He was stealing stuff out of the locker, he had a “heroin addiction for an extended period of time,” and he was sharing his swag with a career criminal with a rap sheet as long as your arm and two felony convictions.

On top of all that, Kinney’s addiction and malfeasance came to light accidentally, after an unrelated search of the career criminal’s home. Absent that coincidence, Kinney might have gone on stealing stuff and destroying God knows how many prosecutions that depended on secure evidence storage.

News coverage of the case, so far, has focused on Kinney himself. But what of the institutional framework around him?

The overarching question breaks down into two parts.

1. What kind of internal oversight does the Colchester police have on its evidence locker and the sole keeper thereof?

2. What is the department’s drug testing policy for its officers? Does it have any? How often does it conduct tests? What drugs does it test for?

the_whizzinator_83385And how are the tests conducted? Is the officer monitored while, ahem, providing a sample? Or is there opportunity to game the test via the Whizzinator route?

The Colchester Police Department should answer these questions in detail. Necessary reforms must be enacted. If internal policies were not followed, those responsible should answer for their inactions.

Lest we lay all of this at the feet of Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison, allow me to note that she’s only been there for a little over a year. The previous Chief, Charles Kirker, who had been chief for the previous 34 years, needs to give some answers too. Especially in light of this sentence from a softball Burlington Free Press interview on the occasion of his retirement:

My philosophy has always been to delegate to subordinates because you allow them to grow.

Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong with that.

Beyond Colchester, the same questions should be put to the Department of Public Safety. What are the standards for the State Police? Are there standards that local police agencies must meet?

If not, why not?

If a drug-addicted officer can occupy a critical position of trust for two and a half years, only to be caught by accident, then either there was a complete breakdown in the Colchester police, or there are systemic shortcomings that must be addressed.

That’s all. I’ll hand this over to the watchdogs of the media.