MONTPELIER — Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos has announced he will retire after 35 years of service.
Facos sent a letter Friday to City Manager Bill Fraser and the City Council, notifying them that he would retire effective July 1, 2020, to allow time for a smooth transition in the search for his successor.
Facos stated in his letter that he was retiring because of the stress and demands of the job over time.
“Thirty-five years of policing takes its toll on a person, and it will be time for me to step away from ‘the job,’” he wrote.
Asked to elaborate, Facos said, “We see a lot of bad things; you see, in some cases, some of the worst that humanity can do to one another; tragic accidents (and) just the stress of everything that comes with it; the day-in, day-out of managing the needs of policing a community, to also balancing family life and everything else.
“They call it a compounding trauma. It’s the same thing for all first responders — dispatchers, firefighters and medics, as well. It’s not so much PTSD, but, certainly, there can be, absolutely, those life-threatening moments that can be part of that,” he added.
Facos said that in the 1980s and 1990s, it was not widely recognized that trauma on the job for first responders was an issue.
“We’re tough, suck it up,” Facos said was the mantra expected of first responders. “I would say it’s one of the most challenging aspects of our job.”
But in recent years, Facos said there had been wider recognition of the effects of trauma on first responders and the need for a range of medical and mental health services available.
“But I think it’s led to a very positive cultural shift in how we (support) our folks here,” Facos said. “It’s something that is embraced all levels and it’s refreshing to see that.”
For Facos, there were two recent graphic examples of the effects of trauma for police officers in Montpelier in the police-shooting deaths of Nathan Giffin at Montpelier High School in Jan. 2018, and Mark Johnson on Spring Street in August. Both men were shot and killed after pointing weapons at police that both later turned out to be pellet guns.
The police officers in both incidents were cleared of any wrongdoing after investigations.
Facos noted recently that the two police shooting deaths were the first recorded incidents in the entire history of the city but also said officers responded to a threat to their lives after a weapon was pointed at them.
“In some regards, there were some similarities when both times, the officers, their lives were threatened with what, at that time, what was believed to be a firearm, in both cases,” Facos said. “It does impact them.”
Montpelier officers involved followed up with mental health support services following the incidents, something that he described as part of the “sixth pillar” of the 21st Century Policing Task Force Report from the Obama administration that outlines support services and recommendations for officer wellness and safety.
Both men killed were known to have mental health problems and the Montpelier and Barre police departments are currently involved in budget requests to their respective cities and the state of Vermont to support an “embedded” social worker from Washington County Mental Health Services to help defuse conflicts in cases where mental health is an issue.
MPD has also been a pioneer with WCMHS in a program known as Team Two that seeks to work together in cases where there is a problem with people suffering from mental health issues, Facos noted. It is a program that has been adopted by other police forces in the state and has also been adopted by other cities and towns in the country.
Another incident that occurred during Facos’ tenure was the first murder in decades in the city. Markus Austin was shot and killed in the parking lot of his Barre Street apartment by Barre resident Jayveon Caballero after an altercation outside a Barre bar in January 2017.
The incident came just hours after the Vermont Women’s March, the day before, with what is believed to be the largest public gathering at the State House, to protest the inauguration of President Trump, with an estimated crowd of 15,000 to 20,000. Facos noted that his department has the added responsibility of supporting the Capitol Police.
In recent months, the local department has had to deal with the issue of a growing homeless population in the city which has led to conflicts that have also placed burdens on the police. Facos said he believes there needs to be a more statewide and regional response to homelessness and support services.
In his letter to the city, Facos noted he started his career as an auxiliary trooper with the Vermont State Police in May 1985. In August of the same year, former Montpelier Police Chief Doug Hoyt hired Facos as a part-time police officer and he became a full-time officer in June 1987. Facos was appointed police chief in September 2007.
“Please know that the (Montpelier Police Department) is stronger than ever and is well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead,” Facos added in the letter. “I am looking forward to seeing the department grow even stronger, become more diverse, and more capable with new leadership guiding the agency into the future.”
Fraser paid tribute to the Facos’ service.
“Chief Facos has been an extraordinary police chief for Montpelier,” Fraser said. “He has set top standards for ethics, professionalism, training and community engagement. ... We are much better off because of his service. I am sure there will be more to say closer to his retirement, but for now, we’re looking at very big shoes to fill.”
Mayor Anne Watson added, “I have been very grateful to work with Tony over the past few years. His leadership, patience, and people-oriented approach to policing has made Montpelier a stronger community.”
Facos, 54, was born in Montpelier and went to its public schools, graduating from Montpelier High School in 1984.
He received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 1995 and a master’s in diplomacy and international studies in 2013, both from Norwich University. He also received a certificate in criminal justice from the University of Virginia as part of his training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, in 2004.
He is the immediate past president of the FBI National Academy Associates New England Chapter, and was also the head of the Vermont sub-group of the association for five years.
Facos said he was attracted to becoming a police officer at a young age.
“I liked the idea of something different happening every single day when policing,” Facos said. “It’s certainly a very challenging job, more so today than when I started and there’s also that sense of, as corny as it sounds, that sense of purpose to help others, to make your little corner of the world, a better, safer place.”
Facos said he had enjoyed an “excellent” relationship with other law enforcement agencies and with the city of Montpelier over the years.
“There have been some pretty frightening moments over the decades, but the highlights ... just seeing some excellent work done here by the teams here,” Facos said.
“Montpelier is recognized, nationally, for its quality of life and crime is one of those indicators,” Facos noted, adding that he hoped young people would have the same quality of life he enjoyed in his younger days and that everyone felt safe on city streets.
Facos said he had no plans for the future and plans to live in the area for the time being after retirement. In his spare time, he enjoys mountain biking and motorcycling.