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02/18/2010

By Kara Herlihy

In response to ongoing property crimes in The Valley and a recent well-publicized crime spree, town officials, law enforcement officers and residents came together last Thursday, February 11, to participate in a public forum on law enforcement.

Town constables, state police officers and members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department responded to questions from many frustrated residents, some affected by property crimes, break-ins and car burglaries.

VARIETY OF DUTIES

Stowe Police Chief Ken Kaplan was also present at the forum to discuss the make-up of Stowe's police force. Stowe has a full-service police department with 12 full-time certified officers and 10 part-time officers. Kaplan told attendees that Stowe police officers handle a variety of duties: everything from traffic patrol, conducting investigations, covering special events, to animal control and bad checks.

Kaplan said the Stowe PD is "definitely a luxury" for residents, with a yearly budget of approximately $1.6 million, the highest budget in town, he said. As a result of their full-time police presence, the Stowe PD receives several thousand calls and incident reports each year. In 2008, they responded to 4,500 calls ranging from shoplifting to serving high-risk warrants and conducting narcotics raids.

REVENUE FROM FINES

"It's not cheap to start out," Kaplan said, with the cost of vehicles, equipment and manpower. Stowe makes up for a lot of the cost of funding the police force with the money they take in covering special events and revenue from fines.

Washington County Sheriff Sam Hill told residents that The Valley towns contract with the Sheriff's Department with each town's hours varying, to conduct traffic patrol, transport prisoners and follow through with the "due process of law." Hill also said that the cost of the Barre Town Police Department was about $900,000 for a six-person police force offering 24/7 coverage with dispatch handled by the Barre City police department. The combined costs of coverage and dispatch, he said, was also about $900,000.

40 HOURS PER WEEK

Currently, according to Hill, sheriffs spend 40 hours per week in The Valley: 16 hours in Waitsfield and 24 in Warren. Warren and Waitsfield are cross-patrolled, with coverage rotating back and forth between the two towns. Warren's additional eight hours are covered at a separate time, he said.

The cost of dispatch is significant, Hill said; for example, the Lamoille County Sheriff's office contracts with three towns in that county to provide a five- to seven-person police force that costs $786,000 plus $270,000 for dispatching costs.
 
Fayston First Constable Ray Munn called attention to the coming change in state statute that severely limits the authority of the elected constables; the law stipulates that constables must complete 186 hours of training, in three phases, at the Vermont Police Academy.

EYES AND BOOTS

Former Warren first constable Bill Peatman said that there has been and continues to be a "lack of communication" between the elected officials and the police departments.

Munn asked the law enforcement officers why they were unwilling to communicate, by radio, regarding incidents and ongoing issues.

"Send constables an e-mail; we can help be the eyes and ears to work with them," Munn said.

Lt. Paul White of the Vermont State Police, Middlesex Barracks Commanders, said they "are not looking to take on more dispatching clients."

HARD TO KEEP IN TOUCH

Munn said The Valley constables have started the Mad River Community Police Association in order to organize the elected officers that Munn said are "on call 24 hours per day."

White said, "It is too hard to keep in touch with all the constables," and currently there are two vacancies in his department that are not easy to fill. It takes a year at least to fill vacancies with training.

White confirmed that the recent increase in property crimes is "an anomaly" for the area. While a significant portion of the incidents can be traced directly to 18-year-old Jeremiah Sadler, who allegedly was responsible for 20 car burglaries in The Valley, White said robberies are on the rise statewide.

PATROL THE RESORT

State Representative Adam Greshin said that Sugarbush continues to use Hunter North Security, though their hours were cut, to patrol the resort and the immediate surrounding area after having issues with theft. Some homeowners associations contribute to offset the cost to fund the security detail but said it is still "not cheap."

Waitsfield resident Jon Jamieson said that spending money to contract with the sheriff's department with the lack of a morning patrol shift (2 to 6 a.m.) in The Valley "doesn't make sense" given that the majority of property crimes occur during that time.

Kaplan said that the Stowe PD receives the least amount of calls between 3 and 5 a.m. and that Stowe does not have a lot of break-ins because all of the businesses have alarm systems.

CAT UP A TREE

Twenty-four-hour patrol in Stowe is a physical deterrent for crime, Kaplan said, and also accounts for more calls and incident reports. "We respond to everything from larceny to a cat up a tree," he continued.

In conclusion, several Valley residents said they are working towards establishing neighborhood watch programs to address the increase in crime.

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