(Host) The director of the Vermont State Police is calling for a statewide discussion concerning the future mission of the State Police.
Col. James Baker says his force is having a difficult time dealing with a number of serious cases, because the troopers are being asked to respond to calls from towns that rely solely on the State Police for all their law enforcement needs.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) At this time, less than half of all towns in Vermont either operate their own police department or contract with their local county sheriff’s department for law enforcement duties.
Most of these towns don’t have a lot of residents although a growing number have a population of between 3,000 and 6,000 people.
According to the director of the Vermont State Police, Col. James Baker, these towns represent about 35% of all calls coming into the State Police and Baker says it’s getting harder and harder to provide this level of service:
(Baker)"Our roles have changed drastically post 9/11 the expectations on us to be involved in all hazardous management of hazards in the field have raised expectations on us criminal investigations got more complex I mean we’re seeing a spike in crimes and then we have situation where there’s a group of towns out there that have in fact have significant development that are being a strain on us."
(Kinzel) Baker says some towns that have chosen not to have their own law enforcement capabilities have unrealistic expectations of the State Police:
(Baker)" There’s expectations in communities that we respond to vandalized mailboxes or shop lifting complaints at strip malls and at the same time be the agency that’s responsible for coordinating complicated criminal investigations and that’s very difficult to meet all those demands."
(Kinzel) Jane Woodruff is the executive director of the Vermont Sheriffs Association. She says she understands the dilemma facing the State Police:
(Woodruff)"In those towns that don’t have a police force of their own or a contract with the sheriff the default police coverage is the State Police."
(Kinzel) Woodruff says the major problem is that many small towns can’t afford their own law enforcement coverage:
(Woodruff )"The option is always out there for these towns …but a lot of times those towns don’t have the financial wherewithal to come up with the money for a contract."
(Kinzel) The Vermont League of Cities and Towns thinks small town coverage is a key responsibility of the Vermont State Police.
League executive director Steve Jeffrey says the State Police should seek additional money from the Legislature if they’re having difficulty responding to their current caseload.
(Jeffrey)"And say this is what we believe our mission is – what the people of Vermont expect of us – and this is how much this is going cost the taxpayers of the state of Vermont and please include this in the budget. If you’re going to pick and choose what your law enforcement responsibilities are, then that’s another whole discussion that I think needs to be happening."
(Kinzel) A special legislative committee is examining this issue this fall – it plans to make a series of recommendations by the end of the year.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot