Keelan: Don’t be a cop in Vermont

If Legislature makes it easier to sue cops, they’ll keep leaving

by Don Keelan

Bennington County’s state senator, Richard (Dick) Sears, the Vermont Senate’s Judiciary Committee chair, has sold out to the left-wing political lobbying organization, Vermont Public Interest Research Group. No one should even think of applying to become a Vermont law enforcement officer.

Furthermore, at a time when the State’s cities and towns can least afford it, maybe those currently in law enforcement should consider relocating to another state. 

Don Keelan

As if it was not difficult enough to be in law enforcement, Senator Sears is proposing legislation removing qualified immunity as a legal defense for Vermont policing personnel.

For the moment, set aside the nature of the legislation and the organizations to which Sears has capitulated. The sworn officer ranks of law enforcement agencies in Vermont are already decimated from outright resignations and early retirement. 

Vermont State Police, with an authorized strength of 333 troopers, recently reported that it has over 50 vacant positions. Add to these numbers the wholesale dissolution of the Burlington and Rutland police forces and what the respective municipalities are attempting to do in re-staffing. It is unprecedented. Burlington is even offering a $15,000 signing bonus to police recruits, and the crisis is not limited to Vermont’s two largest cities.

Just ask the Manchester, Brattleboro, Springfield, Vergennes, and Shelburne town leaders, among others, who witnessed the tidal wave of law enforcement officers’ resignations that occurred and continued to occur before the late December announcement by Senator Sears and his allies at the ACLU, NAACP, and VPIRG.

 Senator Sears’s recent statement on qualified immunity was one of the most disingenuous pronouncements I have ever heard from a politician. When Senator Sears made his announcement, he was emphatic that the time has come to remove the U.S.Supreme Court legal doctrine of qualified immunity for police and that every cop should be held personally accountable for their actions. In the same breath, he stated that he has always supported the police and those in law enforcement. Maybe, he should sit in on exit interviews.

The crux of the proposed legislation is that a police officer could be held personally and financially accountable to up to $25,000 per incident per person. If passed, every police officer (trooper) will be wise to carry malpractice insurance and have a lawyer on retainer. Good luck to any officer looking to obtain bank credit for a loan or mortgage with such a contingent liability hanging over their head. 

The legislation is unnecessary, and recent events have proven it so. Over the past twelve months, the municipalities of Burlington and Bennington have paid out hundreds of thousands to families and individuals who had brought accusations against the police. Vermont localities recognize the poor performance of its police and are willing to accept responsibility and pay restitution. 

What is needed is more policing in Vermont. In Senator Sears’ hometown of Bennington, there is a severe spike of possible gang activity emanating from Massachusetts, illegal drug distribution, deaths from overdoses, and the continuing rise in domestic abuse. Perhaps the conversation should address these problems instead of being steered to the discussion of removing qualified immunity. 

Over the years, academic experts have noted that Vermont policing was, in some districts, directed at the BIPOC community when it came to police stops. Much has changed through education, training, and, of course, the insertion of cameras in police cars and on-person. Presently, each Vermont State Trooper has no less than four cameras. 

There well might have been a time when Senator Sears supported law enforcement, but that was in the past. He now has swung his support to the far left, and one can only wonder what he expects to receive?

What would Senator Sears say if qualified immunity was removed from the actions of the Vermont Senate and that institution was to hold its members personally responsible for the 5 billion dollar unfunded Vermont pension system? 

Vermont needs well-vetted, trained, supervised, and compensated law enforcement. Not the removal of qualified immunity.      

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

Categories: Commentary

12 replies »

  1. He’s really ON to something at the end of this article/commentary..Let’s DO remove liability protections for ALL in state government & elected officials too! That way folks can SUE for businesses LOST during Scott/Levine’s “shutdown” & ALL involved in the EB-5 debacle too not just the unfunded pensions. BTW–We should “fund” teachers salaries & pensions graded by how many of their students could actually READ, WRITE, & do basic MATH. Why are we paying for a system that produces a 50% failure rate?

  2. There are few long-serving democrats that i can truly say I have had a healthy respect for, and Sen. Sears has always been one of them. This lack of advocacy he is showing for the law enforcement community seems way out of character for him, unless he is willing to treat all other public employees the same as far as holding them personally responsible for any damage they did on the job. What a shame. Sen. Sears, you owe Vermonters a clear explanation of your rationale for this proposal.

  3. It’ll be like the wild west if we the citizenry have to defend ourselves, which most of us, thanks to the 2nd amendment, are capable of doing…The Democrats favorite people, (The Criminals) might not like the outcome however, because there will be little procedure to follow if one try’s to cause me or my wife harm…Democrats are abandoning all of society’s fabric and structure for the sake of lawlessness…This has to be intentional in my mind, because these are not rational actions by them.

      • I figure once we start protecting ourselves against the lawlessness they’ve created, they will then see it as an excuse to come after our guns…That’s the biggest thorn in their side to full totalitarian control.

  4. These career politico’s would slit their own mother’s throats if that was what it would take to be yet re-elected yet again by the VT bots who vote here – so many completely unaware & ignorant of the serious degree of radical policies (such as this one amongst so many others) and ideologies these panderers are more than happy to destroy their own state with in order to retain their sense of “power”.

    BTW, in case some of you haven’t been to Bennington lately: it is rundown, devoid of businesses which once thrived there, & crime/drug ridden – thanks ALSO to the leftist policies of the town board & this “senator” who believed that never-ending construction of low income housing in town was oh so “Vermont” & “liberal” of them.

    Bennington was & is DESTROYED. Good work, as always, DIMocrats!!!

  5. What about the countless low-income people in Vermont living in sub-standard conditions in their own homes? Lack of running water, proper heat, even without electricity or toilet facilities?

    • There’s nothing like exaggeration to justify an irrational perspective. As of January 2020 (the most recent statistics I could find), Vermont had an estimated 1,110 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. But only 185 of these individuals were ‘chronically’ homeless. Yes, homelessness is an unfortunate circumstance. I’ve been there. But it hardly qualifies as a ‘countless’ predicament. And, in most cases, it’s a temporary condition.

      Being characterized as ‘low income’ is another statistic often exaggerated to rationalize one’s point of view, especially by those who constantly argue for increasing the minimum wage. Regardless of what the minimum wage is, unless everyone earns the same amount of money, for working the same amount of time, for being equally productive with their efforts, understood as an impossible projection even by the socialist standards of Friedrich Engels, there will always be people with lower incomes than others.

      But beware the False Dilemma. As Thomas Sowell pointed out when studying various income groups, 97% of the people characterized as being in the bottom quintile of income earners at a given point in time, raised their standing to higher income groups in 8 years’ time or less. In fact, the study found that within that 8-year period, as many people who remained in the bottom quintile of income earners (3%) moved all the way to the highest quintile.

      There will always be someone who is homeless at some given point in time. There will always be someone who is a low-income earner at some given point in time. But we humans are the most adaptable species on the planet and almost always find a way to improve our standard of living – especially in a free market economy. Which is why our standard of living today, in general, is higher than it’s been in human history.

      So please, stop with the constant accentuation of the negative. We get it. Accept your own individual responsibility to improve your personal circumstance, regardless of your individual disabilities. We all have them to one extent or another. Instead, you should be thankful that you live in a place that gives you the freedom to do what you can for your own benefit – and then, for the benefit of others if you so choose.

  6. Why did so many police resign in December?

    Could it have been the illegal experimental vaccine mandates? (According to the Nuremberg Code.)

    Let’s not talk about that, though.

    Nothing to see here, move along.