Like so many of you, I have been trying to understand the policing issues and actions that have been highlighted across the nation for the past three weeks. As the Sheriff of Windham County, I lead a department that strives to build relationships on a foundation of respect and on trust so that we can serve our communities in a fair and impartial manner. I can speak for all members of the Windham County Sheriff’s Office in saying we condemn the actions and inactions of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd. But condemnation is not enough. As law enforcement professionals, we must be listening constantly to you in communities that we serve; communities of which we are also members. I do not have the answers to explain the behavior that we have witnessed in Minneapolis, but I am willing to explore the problems as they appear here in Windham County, and to work with you to collectively develop better policy, training, and practice.
A common theme I’ve picked out of the conversations is an “us versus them” dynamic. Like many people I’ve talked to, I see division of friends, neighbors, and community members. I also see it in national politics, a variety of media coverage, and on social media. There is in-fighting amongst us over a variety of serious issues including climate change, systemic racism, and constitutional rights. Those of us educated in the philosophy of community policing know that “us versus them” is one of the most important obstacles to overcome.
Today’s philosophy of community policing has its origins in the 1829 British Metropolitan Police Service and with Sir Robert Peel. Peel understood that the success of the Metro Police was not dependent on the conquering of the criminal, but on cooperation, trust, and being on the same team as the people they served. One of Peel’s principles stated in part, “the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
It is not hard for me to stand in solidarity against police brutality. It violates the trust we work hard to build and maintain. I stand here seeking to answer the questions of how we find unity? Does the professional ethic of the Windham County Sheriff’s Office meet the needs of our community? Does the law enable or exclude us from being part of the community? These and other questions are what I seek to answer moving forward by creating the Sheriff’s Advisory Council.
In the next article, I’ll talk about how the community policing model implemented at the Windham County Sheriff’s Office works, our policies, training, and philosophies, and what we’ve done to work towards unity over the last fifteen years. I believe that before my department and the community can implement change, our stakeholders must have an understanding of where we currently stand.
Mark Anderson was appointed as the sheriff of Windham County in July 2019, having worked with the department since 2004. He is a member of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council and previously certified as a use of force instructor and a field training officer. If you would like to share a prospective related to this, please contact him at sheriff (at) windhamcountyvt.gov.