Two Mondays ago, on my way to work I stopped at the end of Spellman Terrace to take my turn onto South Main Street when a terrifying scene unfolded in front of me. A young man, in obvious distress, slumped against a white van parked on South Main Street. Even though he was nearly doubled over I could see he was holding a gun. To his left, two uniformed Rutland City police officers, guns drawn, retreated to defensive positions between parked cars. As chair of the Rutland City Police Commission, I paused at the intersection unsure of what, if anything, I should do at that exact moment. Thankfully, over the next 20 seconds Sgt. Mosher arrived in a second cruiser to block the south end of the scene while two more Rutland City officers and a state policeman arrived to block the north end.
As I slowly drove away a feeling of horror fell over me; there are 1,000 ways this situation ends in violence and only a few where it does not.
I have read countless editorials on the state of policing in America. Most, at some point, conclude that policing comes down to individual relationships and trust within the community. How would the situation in New York in July 2014 been different if Officer Pantaleo knew Eric Garner prior to arriving on the scene? Would the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 have occurred if Derek Chauvin realized they had worked together at the same nightclub? To paraphrase an interview I saw with James Craig, Chief of the Detroit Police Department; the middle of a crisis is a poor time to start building relationships.
About an hour later, with trepidation, I called Chief Kilcullen to ask about the scene I had witnessed and the safety of all involved. To my absolute joy he told me that as the situation evolved and the identity of the armed man became known, Sergeant Jon Dickerson of our Community Response Team jumped on the radio. He had a relationship with this man through his work in the community. He radioed officers, raced to the scene, established a dialogue with the armed man and eventually convinced him to drop the gun and exit the situation peacefully. As he was led away, the man told arresting officers that the only reason he surrendered was because he trusted Jon. There are 1,000 ways this situation ends in violence and only a few where it does not.
This is the policing we deserve.
Sergeant Jon Dickerson embodies everything the Rutland City Police Department has committed to, trained for, and delivered on a daily basis in our community. I am tired of the media’s obsession on a negative narrative around policing. When our commitment to community policing pays off, when our police force demonstrates the behaviors we expect and deserve, when interpersonal relationships are in place prior to a crisis as they were in this situation, we need to celebrate it and I have never been more proud of our Rutland City Police Department.
Sean Sargeant, Chair, Rutland City Police Commission