By Amelie Fairweather
Vermont State Police officers participated in a Zoom call with members of the Junior Reporters Club last week and shared their opinions and observations about becoming a police officer, George Floyd, use of force, and racism in Vermont.
It was a slightly breezy day when Vermont State Police Captain Julie Scribner, the staff operations commander since 2001, and Sergeant Erin Hodges, previously undercover in a drug task force, and from the Albany area in New York, joined a Zoom call that would give us the info on how they feel about police violence, and add another perspective to the table.
Hodges formerly worked on a road in Rutland with a marked car, before she went undercover and eventually joined the police force. Captain Scribner grew up near Boston before moving to Vermont. After asking about initiations into the police force, Scribner talked about a physical and slightly mental trial, for example: a written exam, pushups, sit ups, a mile and a half run, interviews with other state troopers, a polygraph exam, and interviews with her relatives, friends, even former employees to make sure she was the kind of person they wanted to hire. She also mentioned how she had wanted to be a police officer since she was six years old.
“What’s the hardest part of the job?” I asked. “The hardest part is never know what to expect. I never do the same thing day after day. As a road trooper, you may pull someone over for speeding or help someone change a tire, or go to a call in which someone needs help with their family, or training and learning new things, and while that is fun, it is hard because I like to plan things out. You just never know what will happen,” Captain Scribner said.
“What is your proudest moment of being a police officer,” Marianna Fairweather, 8, asked. “When I see a good person with good values and they do the right thing all the time, get the job, and then make it through the training, which is hard, and progress in their career, and to see Erin come all this way…she’s training new officers and that’s a proud moment,” says Scribner.
“What, if you had to choose, would be the coolest moment for you so far?” I asked. “The coolest part is the animal escaping in Rutland County. Some cows had gotten off a truck and I had to figure out how to wrangle the cows back in at 11:30 and I had no clue how to do it. Cows are really big when you’re next to them,” Hodges joked.
“What was training like?” Lily Mae Siedlecki, 11, asked. “It was pretty hard,” said Hodges, “There were a lot of academics, we spent a lot of time in the classroom, but it’s also physical work, and then bringing the class together as a unit.”
“What is the most common crime?” Marianna asked. “It’s probably robberies, you know, store thefts, drunk driving, no license,” responded Hodges.
“On a more serious note, what is your opinion on the George Floyd tragedy,” I asked.
“When I first saw that video …I try to keep an open mind… like, that’s only one angle or that’s only one side of it, you’re not getting the story, but when I first saw that I was just horrified and heartbroken. I don’t even have the words to say how I felt about that particular incident and the things that have happened as a result of that,” Scribner said.
“There are millions of Americans, and people actually across the whole world, that are finally seeing that this is the time for change, and it has been a long, long, long time coming and I think that we’re going to come out of this and we are all going to be better officers, we’re going to hire better officers, and it’s going to be better. It’s going to take a while, but I think we are moving forward to be better police officers and be more inclusive of people of color and other groups in this country,” said Scribner.
“What is your ideal solution to racism?” Amelie asked. “We need to stop talking and listen and learn from people who have been affected. I’m a white girl in a white state and I need to listen and learn. It’s a poor excuse for me to say, ‘Oh I learned that in high school or college from the textbooks,’ but I have so much to learn and so I think the answer is listening and learning,” answered Scribner.
“Do you think hiring more women will help?” I asked. “Yes, on hiring women: we bring something different to the table,” Hodges said. “I’ve been in a number of situations where I was able to talk to someone, there’s a lot of paperwork with the use of force reports, and so I would much rather talk my way out of that situation… maybe they just need to be heard, and maybe we don’t always see everyone on their best days. I’ve talked people into my cruiser that needed mental health help and it started out serious, but we got them to the hospital. Females, not all, but many do a better job in that, although some men are very good at it, too,” answered Hodges.
“What is your opinion on defunding the police?” asks Katie Fraser, a fifth-grade teacher at Charlotte Central School.
“I see anger. There’s anger that police officers can’t do the social work and community service that the communities deserve. I don’t think it makes sense to do away with police officers, because there are always bad people in the world, and good people need protection, but can we move some funding and change training and make it so better mental health and restorative justice for after a crime occurs than going to jail, than police coming in and arresting someone because they’re having mental health breakdown…There’s different ways to do it,” said Hodges.
“We are not in a society where we can get rid of the police,” answered Captain Scribner.
“Do you see white supremacy in Vermont?” asked Christina Asquith. “There is definitely racism in Vermont and not just those extremes–those are the examples you hear about in the news, but what you don’t hear about in the news are the little things every day, where a person of color is riding their bike through a small town in Vermont and you’ll have a white person look at them think, ‘Oh, who’s that? What are they doing here?’ And when you have people do that and start a conversation at their general store, then that’s racism. There is racism here,” replied Hodges.
Amelie Fairweather is a member of the Junior Reporters Club at The Charlotte News. Students interested in reporting over the summer are welcome to send an email to participate.