Local News

Board tackles Hartland policing

By Curt Peterson

Safety and security have been topics of Hartland Select Board meetings for years, but Monday night brought tones of urgency and resolve not evident in the past. Chair Phil Hobbie characterized the discussion as “a big step forward.”

Last year the Vermont State Police, due to a shortage of personnel and growing emergency calls elsewhere, were unable to fulfill its  contract with Hartland to provide coverage on a regular basis. The VSP bills the town for hours actually covered.

The current contract expires July 1. After lengthy discussion, the board decided to renew it, to identify what gaps in coverage might exist, and to consider various sources for filling those gaps. 

VSP agreed to renew the contract on July 1 with an open number of hours.  

According to the board, VSP will assist acting Town Manager Martin Dole with statistics regarding incidents, and determining what gaps need to be covered. Once an appropriate policing contractor is qualified by the committee and the board, a trial run to verify its suitability will begin.

Hobbie pointed out that VSP and whatever other policing authority Hartland engages, will not be in coordinated communication.

“I realize there will be a possibility of overlapping – both services on duty at the same time,” he said. “We’ll have to figure that out.”

Increasing fear for security at Hartland Elementary School in the face of school shootings elsewhere, growing incidence of domestic violence and drug trafficking in town all inspired the board to take action.

“A primary need is for us to identify and prioritize our policing needs and desires,” Hobbie said. “Then we can delegate policing services appropriately.”

Hobbie and Dole are meeting with Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh to discuss Windsor’s policing experience and get suggestions on the topic.

Hobbie and local resident David Singer met with Windsor County Sheriff Ryan Palmer to learn about Palmer’s plans for reorganizing the sheriff’s department, adding personnel, upgrading equipment and marketing expanded policing services to towns in the county.

“We didn’t mention a contract with Hartland,” Hobbie told the Mountain Times, “The meeting was to learn more about the sheriff’s services.”

He said one concern he has is Palmer’s “tiered training” system, whereby individual deputies have differing levels of training. 

“I’m concerned that someone trained to make traffic stops might be faced with a major event or crisis,” Hobbie said.

The board plans to appoint a “police committee” to study the problem, research various solutions, and make recommendations for improving the town’s policing situation.

The Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission has agreed to facilitate public meetings to gather input from the residents, who will be most affected by the board’s decisions.

“It’s important to realize that different sections of town have different policing needs,” resident and local judge David Singer said, reminding the board that the VSP Criminal Investigation Department, forensics experts and urgent response services will still always be available, no matter what the town decides regarding their contract.

Selectman Tom Kennedy said one option would be to help form a regional policing service that would be a provider to multiple nearby towns.

“The fact is, Hartland’s policing policy is woefully inadequate compared to other, similar towns,” Kennedy said. “We need to do something. We can’t wait. Let’s interview other policing providers, get proposals, and try one of them for three to six months on a trial basis.”

Better policing would be the “good news”. But, Kennedy warned, the cost of adequate policing will be a “sticker shock” for Hartland taxpayers.

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