Morrison first woman to lead Vt. chiefs of police

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Chief Jennifer Morrison (Courtesy photo)

Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison made history last Thursday, becoming the first woman to serve as president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police.

The organization consists of law enforcement heads from around the state and tackles legislative issues in Montpelier while providing resources, support and camaraderie to its membership, Morrison said.

Morrison, who came to Colchester PD from Burlington, is one of only two female police chiefs in the state. University of Vermont Police Chief Lianne Tuomey also belongs to VACOP.

“Do I feel like I’m in the boys’ club? Yes, because I am in the boys’ club,” Morrison said. “Does it bother me? No. Does it slow me down or change the way I operate? Absolutely not.”

Morrison said she has never perceived any type of bias within VACOP and believes she and Tuomey are offered equitable respect and airtime from the men in meetings. Still, she’d like to see more women at the table.

“If more women are in positions of rank, then maybe that will continue to attract ambitious young women to this field,” Morrison said.

The chief acknowledged her new appointment comes with a heftier workload, but she doesn’t believe it will detract from her work at CPD. To balance the added responsibility, presidents only keep their post for one year.

Morrison, previously the group’s first-ranking vice president, takes over for Woodstock chief Robbie Blish. Hinesburg PD chief Frank Koss moves into Morrison’s old spot, a role that offers a natural progression to president.

“It causes me to be very thoughtful and organize my time and efforts, but really at the end of the day what’s good for Colchester is good for almost all other places in Vermont,” Morrison said.

“When we’re talking about best practices and professional policing and keeping our citizens safe and keeping our officers engaged with the community, these are not themes that are unique to Colchester,” she continued.

Indeed, Morrison said the group allows chiefs to bounce ideas off their peers, comparing difficult situations, successes and struggles. Friendships are developed in this setting, she added, making problem solving even more effective.

“It is always nice to benefit from the collective wisdom of the group,” Morrison said.

The VACOP executive board meets alone bimonthly and is joined by the entire membership on the alternating months. The next meeting is scheduled for July.

Association leadership will soon work together to determine priorities for the upcoming year, but Morrison said certain topics are already likely to appear, including Vermont’s opioid crisis and the intersection of mental health services and law enforcement.

In the past, VACOP has worked to encourage helpful legislation and to stave off regulations that will unintentionally make officers’ jobs far more difficult, Morrison said, including unfunded mandates or rules for performing specific, operational tasks.

“I don’t worry so much that there would be a disconnect between my work as the president of VACOP and my work as the police chief of Colchester,” Morrison said.  “I’m actually grateful that we’ll have an opportunity to focus on things that will affect everyone in the state.”