When talented leaders leave their positions, it’s important to recognize their work, and what they have added to a community’s value. It’s an process that should be dressed in reflection and perspective and a sense of good will. It’s this exercise that allows us to plan with our eyes wide open, so that the progress gained, continues.
St. Albans City Police Chief Gary Taylor last week announced he will retire at year’s end, capping a 15-year career with the city and 48 years in police work. His is a high profile job and there are few, if any, positions in city government more demanding, or one more exposed to the politics of public safety. It’s a balancing act between too little, or too much, between what is perceived and the truth. Between the personal and the professional. There are many masters to serve.
When reviewing Mr. Taylor’s career with the city it’s crucial to understand where we were when he came, and where we are today. That offers perspective going forward.
To start, we’re a safer community today and we have a high quality police force that has almost doubled in size. Under Mr. Taylor’s direction the city built a regional dispatch center with ten employees serving communities in three counties. We provide policing services to neighboring communities. We have cruisers and officers with cameras, one of the first municipalities to do so. Mr. Taylor pushed the cameras as tools of confidence between his office and the communities he served. To him, it was about accountability and winning the public’s trust, something beyond the reach of most police departments.
These leadership qualities helped the city emerge from a period when it was almost impossible to recruit officers, to a time when the City of St. Albans became the preferred place to work. As most understand; you’re only as good as the people you employ, something that brought Mr. Taylor much pride, [although at times they were also his cross and tender torment.]
Mr. Taylor’s work also went beyond the day-to-day work on the streets. Consider his accomplishments over his 15 years:
• Before he arrived, Taylor Park was the center of much of the area’s drug activity. That’s no longer the case.
• It was 2008 when the department started Vermont’s first Prescription Drug Take Back Program, a huge success and a model for others.
• The “See Something, Say Something: Run, Hide, Fight” campaign was begun in 2018 along with AmCare, Northwestern Medical Center and the Vt. Department of Health. It’s now part of the statewide conversation about how to prepare a community against gun violence. This was his cause.
• In 2018, his department created a Street Crime Unit to deal directly with the criminal drug activity plaguing the city and the state. It’s worked, adding to the community’s sense of safety.
• The department initiated the first ever Franklin County National Night Out Celebration in Taylor Park, a social engagement exercise that brought together the department and the community.
• Through the years, the city pursued enough grants, etc., to become one of the most sophisticated forces in the state in terms of having the technology available to do their jobs.
• The department started, and continues, with an annual “Community Graffiti Clean-Up Day.”
• The department started the Volunteers in Police Services programs to amplify the St. Albans Neighborhood Watch efforts.
• Mr. Taylor served on the Vermont State E-911 board for ten years, three as chairman. He was sought after as an authority on all matters relating to public safety, at the state as well as the federal level.
All of these initiatives have Mr. Taylor’s fingerprints on them because he understood something fundamental to his profession; there is almost nothing that can’t be accomplished when an entire community joins with its police department to turn the tide on crime and to strengthen the community.
That was the hallmark of Gary Taylor’s tenure as chief of police. To his credit, he was able to stitch together the various community parts into a weave that made the public’s safety the norm and not something continually beyond our grasp.
When we look at his career though a lens wider than yesterday’s news and with depth beyond a social media post, it’s impressive, a nice legacy. And we thank him for that. It sets the standard for what should be expected in his successor.
by Emerson Lynn