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Setting the record straight about armed constables

06/16/2011

By Gene Bifano

With due respect to Mr. Rayfield, I feel it is necessary to set the record straight. I do not believe he understands our job as Warren constables, nor do I think he is fully informed about constables. Warren had many town meetings where its constables were discussed.

His concern about firearms is puzzling – Vermont’s Constitution Article 16 encourages the citizens to be armed. It is equally puzzling how he transitioned from constable carrying a traditional firearm to constables shooting at people? If there wasn’t a need before, there won’t be a need in the future.

I wonder if the gentleman understands the value of a first responder. With state police typically over 15 minutes away, Warren constables have responded to a burglary in progress, 911 hang-ups, wellness checks, domestic violence, domestic issues, violent disputes, auto accidents and suicides.

Is Mr. Rayfield concerned about our state police and sheriffs defending themselves or us by shooting an assailant. Or, their qualifications to be police?

From The Times (London)

October 23, 2009: “Routine armed police units for London streets”

London constables are armed. Almost all UK constables carry side arms on duty. Those who don’t are issued side arms when they are needed. Does anyone assume the Northern Ireland constabulary is unarmed?

The Canadian Auxiliary Constables are trained to use side arms and rifles and issued them when necessary. Typically they do bicycle inspections, education programs, special events, etc. At times they patrol with armed officers. They are not meant to replace the armed officers. The Warren constables are meant to augment the state police as necessary.

We visited my son in New York City a few weeks ago. Walking in the village I noticed names on the bottom of street signs at the corner of Sullivan and Bleeker. My son reminded me that there were two NYC unarmed auxiliary officers shot and killed when they intervened in a dispute between two individuals.

Since Mr. Rayfield brings up history, let’s reminisce. In the New York City in the late 1940s early 1950s, I lived in an apartment building where most of us didn’t lock our doors and left the fire escape windows open. Today?

My high school had 5,500 guys, half from the South Bronx and Harlem. Occasionally, there were problems and some fisticuffs -- that was that. No drive-by shootings, stabbings, or threats of an assault on the school. We mostly got along. Among our high school clubs was a gun club where kids brought their .22 rifles to school. In the 1950s Vermont kids would bring their guns to school and talk about hunting. Today?

When did you ever hear of kids walking into the school to massacre students and faculty. When did you hear about an angry boyfriend going into a school for his girlfriend and shoot and kill others? How about EMTs having to wear bulletproof vest – like cops?

Schools in America practice lockdowns like we practiced fire drills and now must have a plan for an active shooter.

In the 1950s police didn’t train to do armed assaults on schools or carry military grade weapons. They carried a .38 revolver and a nightstick, which they used judiciously as part of their education program.

I would agree with Mr. Rayfield, we are not living in Dodge City. Times are more critical despite our education programs, enlightened theories and no tolerance programs.

The Valley seems to be an oasis, but we host thousands of people a year. A local resource is needed to deal with problems. Route 100 is a path to Rutland, where a trooper recently did a traffic stop and was confronted by a man with a gun; a gang member.

In fact, bad guys are more violent. After a steady decline of police officers killed in the line of duty it is on the rise. Eric Holder, attorney general, meeting with police chiefs recently expressed concern and dismay at the record number of police killed already this year – 50. Last year it was 61. Some were in rural areas.

Modern police have to be highly educated to navigate the laws and court rulings. The day of the good ole boy being the constable is over.

Before 2009 Vermont constables had full police powers, carried guns and generally were not governed by select boards. Vermont currently has 500 constables. Of 255 municipalities, only 55 have police departments. Many towns such a Mendon, Killington and Ludlow rely on their constables for cost-effective professional policing.

In regard to the modern Taser, all the research indicates they are incredibly safe.

Many law enforcement officers carry a gun, pepper spray, baton and now a Taser. The officer gets to choose which one is appropriate for the circumstance, after using their brain, reasoning and talking. One has to ask why officers have to carry such an assortment of enforcement tools. Why don’t people simply comply?

In regard to Neighborhood Watch, we participate in Warren’s program. One thing realized was that if a crime is in progress, the state police could not get to Warren in time to stop the event. We have plenty of Neighborhood Watch signs; we’re missing more people participating in Neighborhood Watch.
Warren is safer because people know there is someone in town that can respond quickly, just as our fire department does -- not from Cabot or I-89.

Mr. Rayfield doesn’t have to worry about the constables’ psyches. Does his concern extend to our firefighters and EMTs who see tragically horrible events without being asked to? Do we need the right kind of people doing that as well?

I can appreciate his concern for the constables. But it isn’t necessary and wasn’t necessary when I served as a marine in Southeast Asia. No one is asking us to do anything! We are volunteering, just as we do as firefighters, and accept the inherent risks.

Finally, when the billions of dollars spent annually on education’s efforts and signs fail, it’s the police officer enforcing laws, protecting us, mitigating violent confrontations and dealing with a multitude of social issues.

Bifano lives in Warren.

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