Sheriff’s Departments could see changes

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(Host) Changes could be in the forecast for Vermont’s 14 county sheriff’s departments.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell says he expects to see recommendations in the legislature next year.

The issue has come up during Sorrell’s investigation into allegations against Windham County Sheriff Sheila Prue.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Sorrell says it could be some time before his office determines whether to file criminal charges against Prue.

An audit this spring charged the Windham County Sheriff with diverting funds and nearly running her department into bankruptcy.

Sorrell says the standard of proof is different for determining criminal wrong doing than it is for a state audit.

But however his investigation turns out, he says it’s likely that his office will recommend reforms.

(Sorrell) “I know from talking to some other legislators that there’s an interest in taking a look at some of the laws as they relate to sheriff’s departments and whether it’ll be making policies and procedures more uniform or allowing some more oversight than exists under current law, which calls for these periodic audits of the departments.”

(Keese) Current law requires audits of sheriff’s offices every two years. Sorrell says that law was a response to a 2004 case in which a former Washington County Sheriff was convicted of mishandling public funds.

Randy Brock, the state auditor, says he thinks sheriff’s offices should be audited every year. He also says some structural issues deserve review.

(Brock) “The sheriff is a very unique creature. It is part state employee, part county employee part entrepreneur. And whether or not the overall control and oversight of that function are as robust as they should be is something that I think the sheriffs, the Legislature, certainly with our assistance ought to be reviewing.”

(Keese) Sheriffs’ offices receive some funding from the Legislature and from their counties. But they also rely on contracts for law enforcement or traffic control to cover their operations.

Members of the Vermont Sheriff’s Association have called for changes in the way departments are funded and organized.

And some legislators say they’d like to see a clearer division of roles for all of Vermont’s law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General Sorrell says there may not be consensus on what the changes should be. But he expects to see some recommendations when the Legislature reconvenes.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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