ANR investigators may be given police powers

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(Host) The Legislature may grant police powers to investigators for the Agency of Natural Resources. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Tuesday from environmental enforcement officers about the dangers they face on the job.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The six enforcement officers for the Agency of Natural Resources are Vermont’s eyes and ears on the environment beat. Their cases include criminal violations of state hazardous waste laws. The officers often work alone. But because they don’t have access to police files, they sometimes don’t know if the person they’re investigating is dangerous.

Herb Conly is chief enforcement officer for the ANR. He urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider a bill that would give his investigators law enforcement authority. He says his officers have been threatened and assaulted in recent years.

(Conly) “It’s very much an officer safety issue. We’ve had some incidents. There’s also some efficiency and effectiveness parts to this too, where we would have access to information that we don’t have access to now. There’s information available to the general law enforcement community that’s not available to us, that’s very helpful in determining what kind of individual you’re dealing with before you actually arrive at the scene and start asking questions.”

(Dillon) A study committee named by the Legislature recommended that the environmental officers get police powers. The Douglas Administration also supports the plan. Under the proposal, the enforcement officers would get police training and would be authorized to carry weapons. They’d be allowed to use state and federal criminal databases in their investigations. Bennington Democrat Dick Sears chairs the Judiciary Committee.

(Sears) “I’m supportive of the whole idea of giving them law enforcement powers, considering what goes on in the real world. The study committee they came back with a report and recommendation. So I think we should as much as possible, try to follow that recommendation.”

(Dillon) The committee will take up the legislation again on Thursday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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