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12/10/2009

By Kara Herlihy

Several Warren village property owners expressed their frustration with recent break-ins in Warren's commercial district with members of the select board at a December 8 meeting.

Village business owner Ginny Roth asked that the town "take a good look at law enforcement here in the village" and find a way to provide more protection for businesses in the village. Roth's business, The Bradley House, has been subject to repeated burglaries.

Roth asked whether the town would consider reallocating the patrol hours of the Washington County Sheriff's Department from traffic and speed enforcement to patrolling.

HOURS OF PATROL

Town Administrator Cindi Hartshorn-Jones told Roth that the town's contract with the sheriff's department allows 24 hours of patrol per week.

"If they respond to a burglary, for example, that eats some of the hours we're allotted; if they end up apprehending them and taking them to Montpelier, that takes up eight hours, those hours take away from the rest of the week," Jones said.

Jones also said that the expense to contract with the sheriff's department increases once the officers start "controlling situations and apprehending people" because they charge those hours, she added.

Washington County Sheriff's Deputy and Warren Second Constable Peter Laskowski said the contract with the town is specific to speed patrol, but if any other incident occurs while they are on patrol, Laskowski said, "We will deal with it as quickly and efficiently as possible."

RESPONDS TO ALARMS

Laskowski said he routinely responds to alarms that go off while he is on patrol and quite frequently gets called out for domestic disturbances until the Vermont State Police arrive.

"The bread and butter of the program is patrol, being out on the road, doing speed and traffic control," Laskowski said.

Warren Store manager Jack Garvin spoke on behalf of the business owners in Warren. The Warren Store has been burglarized twice in the past month and a half.

Garvin discussed the need for "a multi-layered vigilance" throughout the town among law enforcement, property owners and businesses owners to "be safer and operate together as a unified deterrent," Garvin added.

LAUNCHING PAD

"I don't think it's a problem that is going to go away any time soon. During tough economic times we see more of a spike in these kinds of things. I hope that this can be a launching pad for more discussions with the powers that be in Warren and other towns to network and use other types of vigilance," he continued.

Select board member Andy Cunningham said that last year the select board increased the law enforcement budget by 10 percent because they suspected that the downturn in the economy would result in an increase in small crimes.

CONSIDER INCREASING FUNDING

"It's frustrating when things like this happen and nobody gets caught," Cunningham said.

Laskowski told Cunningham that "that may have changed today."

Until there is a local police department, Laskowski said, "We have to improve all four functioning units to the best of everyone's ability and look at the possibility of increasing the number of constables; it's a volunteer approach that could get somebody involved as a volunteer and then maybe the town would consider increasing funding for training."

"One of the things we can do as a community is figure out how to get the response time from a half hour to couple of minutes," Laskowski continued, utilizing neighborhood watch, law enforcement agencies as well as local officials and volunteers.

LATER EVENING HOURS

Cunningham said that the select board will be investigating law enforcement spending in the budget and will communicate with the sheriff's department to see if the patrol scheduled could be shifted to the later evening hours.

Warren First Constable Bill Peatman referenced a law that will come into effect in July of 2010 that will prevent constables from making arrests or detaining anybody until they complete the necessary training.

Laskowski said that in creating the law, "The state has taken away local authority without providing adequate backup."

LAW ENFORCEMENT OUTPOST

He also said that adding a law enforcement outpost in The Valley would save time and money spent driving detainees to Middlesex or Montpelier for processing. It would also foster more communication between agencies and officers, Laskowski added.

Clayton-Paul Cormier suggested redirecting the town's resources from traffic patrol to aggressively prosecuting cases.

"We can't ask for more state police coverage," Cunningham said.

MAKING PLANS

Laskowski said the state police handle all the investigative duties and "There is something to be said for increased patrol, which is a deterrent, and something said for getting folks to do more investigation, but to divide them up would be problematic."

Roth added, "If the perpetrators knew that the commercial area in the village was being patrolled, I would think it would discourage them from making plans for any kind of break-in."

Cunningham told business owners that their money is best spent upgrading their security systems and that the town should give their input and investigate the possibility of shifting the patrol hours in an unpredictable way.

In addition, town officials said they would review data collected as a part of the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) data project, that details the crimes committed classified by town and time.

MORE COMPLICATED

Select board member Matt Groom said, "We need to see what we can reasonably achieve as a town board. It's a much more complicated issue than law enforcement, property owners and businesses with bad security systems. I'd like to see this collaborative effort continue."

In other select board news, Burt Bauchner, former select board chair and currently a member, submitted his resignation to the board. Bauchner, in a letter of resignation, cited health issues as his reason for resigning and said that it was a privilege to work with members of the boards, town officials and employees.

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