Richmond Town Manager Josh Arneson announced the hiring of Kyle Kapitanski as the new Chief of Police for the town in a post on the Richmond town website earlier this month.
This marked the end of a nearly year-long process of committee meetings, interviews, and town forums.
Kapatasnki has worked throughout Vermont, first with the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, then the Hartford Police Department, Randolph Police Department, Berlin Police Department, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, before coming to Richmond where he has worked since 2019, first as a Patrol Sergeant, and then as acting Chief.
The hiring committee put together to fill the role of police chief received a total of 17 applications for the position, which was then narrowed down to three potential candidates. All three of these candidates were recommended by the committee after interviews.
In a town forum held in September of last year these candidates, including the newly hired Chief Kapitanski, were asked to answer questions submitted by the public, many of which centered around issues of racial justice.
According to Community News Service coverage of the event from December 2020, some members of the community were disappointed in the answers they heard, and encouraged Arneson to reject all three.
“I think all of the candidates had some room for growth in their responses to racial justice,” said Arneson.
But, he says he has since seen growth from Kapitanski in this area, citing his recent work with South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke specifically as a positive experience.
Kapitanski also says he feels as though he has grown in areas of racial justice.
In the September forum Kapitanski said he had not seen any evidence of systemic racism in his day-to-day work in Richmond. Although he still says he does not see direct evidence of systemic racism in Richmond, he says he now has a better understanding of how it functions in the police system.
“I think that you have to acknowledge that the way the systems were set up, and when they were set up, probably offered some advantages or disadvantages depending on your race,” Kapitanski says.
Patty Brushett, a member of the Richmond Racial Equity group, says she is optimistic about the actions being taken by the new chief, while acknowledging that there is still a lot of work left to do saying: “Work is about to begin.”
The Richmond Racial Equity group, formed last year, is an ad-hoc organization, which according to their website is: “Interested in establishing and promoting a more just culture based on racial equity.”
The group has been busy since their formation. They currently have three working groups: Reparations, Education, and Policy & Policing, and they are involved in a number of different racial equity programs in Richmond.
A message shared by Kapatanski, Arneson, and Brushett, is the need for a more community-oriented model of policing in Richmond. They are all advocates of programs like the Howard Center’s Community Outreach, which focuses on sending non-police responders to issues that police are not equipped to handle, such as issues of mental health.
“We absolutely love having community outreach available. It’s an excellent program,” Kapitanski says.
Although Brushett acknowledges that the program is currently under-utilized, she also believes it is a great example of a step in the right direction.
Brushett and the Richmond Racial Equity group recognize that issues of racial justice and policing are complex and systematic.
This is a view that is backed up by recent data. One study, by Professors Stephanie Seguino and Nancy Brooks, showed that in Vermont Black drivers are nearly four times more likely to be searched by police, even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than white drivers.
“This is not something that’s going to be fixed tomorrow,” says Brushett, addressing issues of systemic racism in policing.
But she is hopeful that with a chief who’s willing to listen and do the necessary work, things might begin to move in a positive direction, at least in Richmond.