By Kevin Ryan
I recently responded to a Facebook post from Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman regarding the police beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis Tennessee. LG Zuckerman addressed this tragedy by saying, “I woke this morning to take in the horror that is Tyre Nichols death at the hands of society/police brutality”. I responded by saying that Nichols was murdered by “Bad Eggs”…not to belittle Nichols‘ death, but to avoid the use of more volatile language.
David privately asked me what we should do to “root out bad eggs”. Without betraying the confidence of that communication specifically, I will simply open my reply to LG Zuckerman. My public reply is about 90% similar to what I told David, with a few minor changes for spelling and some minor rephrasing.
To LG Zuckerman:
Addressing the death of Tyre Nichols, this was unconscionable. I am not of the crowd which says, “Back the Blue, No Matter Who”. You know the biggest danger out there for good cops?
Let’s keep in perspective that Tyre Nichols was murdered by five “bad eggs“. Very bad eggs. The role of society in these events is allowing bad eggs. Eggs are much more expensive than they used to be. Bad eggs will kill you if you eat them. Never tolerate bad eggs.
I cannot ascribe, however, the death of Nichols to “white supremacy”…all Officers involved were black, as was the victim. Those officers are being prosecuted for homicide, as they should be.
That being said, we have moved for well over two decades towards a “militarized” policing structure. That trend needs to be reversed and quickly. The general public should never be viewed by police as an “enemy”, which I believe at this point occurs far, far too often.
In 2021, Officer Ken Utter of the Danbury, CT Police Department was caught on bodycam telling a fellow officer that, regarding a trespasser, “20 years ago, he’d be dead in a ditch and his teeth would be missing.” Officer Philip Brailsford of Mesa AZ PD fired seven shots into Daniel Shaver, killing him instantly, while David was on his hands and knees crying and pleading for his life. In 2016, Burlington VT Police Officer David Bowers shot and killed Phil Grenon, age 76, while Grenon was pinned against the rear of his apartment shower. Let’s not even get into George Floyd. This stuff has got to stop.
My father, Kevin D. Ryan, Sr. was Town Manager of Essex, VT and ran the police department there for 14 years. He often told me, “Police are like pit bulls. They are an important resource when someone is coming through the window at 3 am, but do not let them run through the neighborhood without a leash.” This is NOT a condemnation of policing. It’s a warning regarding anyone who is authorized by government to engage in deadly force.
Here’s a few ideas to reform Vermont policing…and I have the feeling they won’t be popular with LEO’s or police departments.
1. Remove Qualified Immunity from Officers – Everyone who takes on professional responsibility needs to be held accountable for when they do wrong. This determination is best left to courts and elections. There should be no bar to responsibility.
2. Vermont Needs to Mandate Maintenance of the Vermont Police Accountability “Brady” List – holding responsible LEO’s who commit misconduct and offences against their public trust and we need to do so publicly. I can think of one such local supervisory officer who is on his third department, having been fired by the first two for criminal activity. How does this guy even remain a cop, let alone a supervisor?
3. We Need to Ban “Moonlighting” of ALL Vermont LEO’s – such as the contract that Burlington Councilor Zoraya Hightower recently noted at Riverwatch Condos, paying police $81 per hour to perform private security using uniforms, equipment and vehicles obtained with taxpayer funds. Law enforcement should serve ALL people without fear or favor, not be available to the highest bidder, regardless of their perceived needs, right or wrong.
4. We Need to Expand and Extend Training & Licensing Requirements For Police Officers Through the Vermont Police Academy – especially in the area of de-escalation and conflict resolution. We currently require 16 weeks training to be an LEO in Vermont. We require 38 weeks training for a cosmetology license. I’m not just talking the talk. In 10 years working as either a nightclub security guard or 3rd shift taxi driver, I neither carried a firearm nor took a swing at anyone, ever….and believe me, we had physical conflicts.
5. All Police Departments in the State of Vermont Should be Overseen Directly By Localized Civilian Police Commissions – required by the Vermont Constitution, with full disciplinary authority. More specifically, I refer to the University of Vermont Police Department, whose disciplinary review committee is the Vermont Legislature at large.
I would admit if these changes were implemented, recruiting of LEO’s would become more difficult at a time when it is already challenging to do so. However, The results would be more just and equitable, high-quality law enforcement.
Remember, Ronald Reagan noted that “man’s old-aged dream, (is) the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
The author is a Winooski resident.
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