MONTPELIER — Police Chief Brian Peete says defunding police isn’t the answer when it comes to police reform.

Peete took part in a Friday morning Zoom panel discussion. The discussion, which saw more than 30 people attend, was hosted by the Systemic Diversity and Inclusion Group.

The panel also included Deuntay Diggs, who is Black and a lieutenant at the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia. He’s also a motivational speaker and known for dancing during an audition on “America’s Got Talent” in 2017.

Also on the panel is Chris Dobbins, who is Caucasian and served in law enforcement with the U.S. Air Force. He had been working as the head of Gaston County’s Department of Health and Human Services in North Carolina when he resigned in June. According to published reports, his registration came after he made a post on Facebook linking racism disparities in housing with health care for Black Americans.

In the post he wrote, “Gaston County DHHS also recognizes that it represents and works within the systems built to benefit some people over others.”

When speaking about the state of policing today, Peete said it’s in flux and confusing. He said things keep happening over and over because people aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past.

Those in law enforcement are under heavy scrutiny and there have been worldwide protests about how black people are treated by police. Those protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in May after a white police officer in Minneapolis used his knee on Floyd’s neck to hold him down for just under less 9 minutes which was sufficient to kill the man.

“We’re right now in a shift where the public is demanding, rightfully so, accountability and transparency and just basic, common rights, dignity, mutual respect and service,” the Montpelier police chief said.

Diggs agreed, saying the glaring issue facing law enforcement is the lack of humanity and respect. He said those that work in law enforcement need to get out into their communities and find out what those communities really want.

Dobbins said we’re living in a time with no middle ground.

“You’re either right or you’re wrong,” he said. “It’s either left or it’s right. It’s either conservative or it’s liberal. … I consistently argue that we’re more alike than we are different, so why shouldn’t we start there? And one of the things I do to try and get to that point is tell me your story. We all make assumptions just based on what we see before we ever know the individual, we ever know anything about them.”

Some looking for police reform have brought up defunding police departments. A few have suggested abolishing police entirely, but most, including residents in Montpelier, want funds taken from law enforcement and redistributed to social services.

While the panelists said police officers these days now have to deal with more issues, like responding to calls about those experiencing mental health problems, they did not think reducing police department budgets was the answer.

Peete said, “You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul to do that.”

The chief said it takes time to get those social services up and running and for them to learn what their “lane” is, so money can’t simply be taken from the police department budget and moved to other services.

He said the public also needs education on the change.

“Who do you call when something happens? Because we haven’t had social service agencies, you’re going to go right to the police department. So everybody’s still going to be calling the police department, but you’ve taken money from that sector,” he said.

Diggs said he’s never heard of a situation where money was taken away from a problem and things got better.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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