By Lisa Loomis
With Fayston residents voting at Town Meeting to contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement, the "cross patrol" program created in 1987 by Warren and Waitsfield has come full circle.
Former Warren resident and EMT Dave Drekter first pitched the idea of some sort of Valley law enforcement to the towns in the fall of 1986. He approached the Warren Select Board with a proposal to contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for police protection for Warren, prompting that board to solicit proposals from the sheriff's department and also from the Vermont State Police.
At a well-attended public hearing, the board heard a state police proposal that essentially required the town to "buy" a state trooper for full-time state police protection. Ultimately the board agreed to bring a much more limited patrol program to voters at Town Meeting. The Waitsfield Select Board followed suit and the two towns shared a sheriff's deputy for a limited number of patrol hours per week.
At Town Meeting 1987, Warren and Waitsfield approved the cross patrol program. Both towns agreed to spend $10,000 for manpower, splitting 40 hours of patrol during ski season and 24 hours of patrol the rest of the year. Warren purchased a police cruiser and Waitsfield agreed to pay for half the cost of the vehicle as well as its monthly expenses.
Drekter became trained as a sheriff's deputy and also became Warren's constable. He also became a trained police dog handler and was accompanied by his German shepherd "Fritz" while on patrol. Former Waitsfield resident John Southwick also became trained as a sheriff's deputy and became Waitsfield's town constable. Currently Waitsfield resident Peter Laskowski is an EMT and a sheriff's deputy who patrols in The Valley. Patrol in The Valley was not always provided by the local deputies, nor is it now -- although the lion's share of the patrol is handled by the local deputies.
In the Warren Town Report for 1998, Drekter's summary of the program identified the priorities of the cross patrol program as drunk driving, speeding, backup for ambulance/firefighters for calls where violence or weapons were involved, the long response time of the state police and burglaries.
"With an average of only 27 patrol hours per week, over 40 drunk drivers were arrested and taken off the road. The conviction rate on those arrests is approximately 98 percent," the report notes.
"There is also a beginning in the reduction in the number of people speeding in The Valley. Deputies issued more than 200 speeding tickets, the vast majority of which were for violations of more than 15 mph over the speed limit. . . . These statistics translated into real, tangible results: While alcohol related fatalities statewide increased by 11 percent last year, our unfortunate average of three to five fatalities that take place each year in The Valley dropped to zero in 1987," it continued.
In 2004 Moretown began contracting with the sheriff's department for patrol, initially authorizing $8,500 for patrol. In 2005 that figure was raised to $10,000 and has remained there. At Fayston's Town Meeting this year, voters, after much discussion and by a tight vote (59-54), approved spending $8,000 for law enforcement.
Warren and Waitsfield both budget significantly more for the program, but that money is offset by revenues from traffic tickets. This year the total program cost in Waitsfield is $42,262. The town anticipates $26,310 in revenue for a net cost of $15,962. In Warren, the total program cost is $38,500 with $15,000 anticipated in revenue for a net cost of $23,500.