Ludlow police officer Ryan Palmer is challenging incumbent Mike Chamberlain for Windsor County sheriff in the Nov. 8 election.
Palmer, a 35-year-old Democrat from Windsor, won the primary election with a $30,000 campaign— using most of his own money. Palmer’s campaign has focused on ending policing for profit. Palmer has been critical of Chamberlain running the sheriff department like a business and writing extensive traffic tickets.
This is the first time Republican Chamberlain, 74, is facing a challenger since he was elected in 2002. Chamberlain has spent 50 years in law enforcement.
The Mountain Times asked both candidates questions.
Q&A with Mike Chamberlain
Mountain Times: Why are you running for sheriff again?
Mike Chamberlain: I am running for re-election because I enjoy the work that I do, contributing to the community. I was encouraged by my constituents and residents of the county to run another term. I got into law enforcement because I wanted to help people and still do. I have worked very hard to build the department to what it is. It’s more than just a job. I get calls and emails that require a response at all times of day and on weekends. I’ve enjoyed working with the people in the county and throughout the state that support the work the department does. The list of key stakeholders is extensive. I am running again as I have goals outlined for the department that I want to meet. I enjoy developing and mentoring the deputies in the community policing model of engagement particularly with the elderly and at-risk-youth. We have deputies and personnel trained in various niches of expertise to include Firearms instruction, de-escalation tactics, CPR & Frst Aid instruction, domestic and sexual violence intervention, Restorative Justice alternatives, and Bridges out of Poverty, to name just a few.
MT: There’s a lot of public scrutiny about police officers. How have you dealt with those issues?
MC: Officers are supported in their work. Training on fair and impartial policing practices are mandatory requirements for being on the force. If a complaint is made about an officer it is referred to our internal affairs officer. We have many high school juniors and seniors who ask our deputies about going into law enforcement and we encourage them to pursue the career as it can be very rewarding. It’s important to us to encourage the future generations of law enforcement and policing in America.
MT: What are some of the things you are proudest of in your years as sheriff?
MC: I am proudest of starting a department from the ground up. I started with the first payroll system. I purchased the first marked cruiser for the department when previously deputies had to use their own personal vehicles to provide law enforcement services. Everything when I took on the department was purchased by the deputies themselves. I was able to make some changes after some time once I was able to generate funds through contracts with towns, security events, and traffic control services. I am proud that I have established a system that supports a force of deputies that are both full time academy certified and part time academy certified. I am proud of how we balance all of it to include the mandated requirements of transporting prisoners and serving civil process as well as the law enforcement services when patrolling, providing court security for two courts, and general business contracts. The sheriff’s department is a business. We do not receive a budget with an allotment of funding given at the beginning of a fiscal year to be spent down. It doesn’t work that way. Each person works to contribute to the greater whole and all of the outcomes based on their role or deputy assignments for the day. As the sheriff I pay close attention to cash flow, like in any business, to meet payroll and personnel obligations as well as overhead costs and keep equipment up to date.
MT: Your opponent has been critical of the way you’ve run the department. What can you say about those issues?
MC: I am aware of his criticisms. However, he doesn’t have the experience of serving in a sheriff’s department to have an understanding of how the department is structured or financed or what is or isn’t feasible.
Q&A with Ryan Palmer
Mountain Times: Why are you running for sheriff?
Ryan Palmer: To improve rural law enforcement in Windsor county and in turn hopefully the entire state. I want to reduce harm, confront the uptick in violent crime, and end policing for profit.
MT: There’s a lot of public scrutiny about police officers. How would you address those issues?
RP: Public scrutiny is good in our line of work, I welcome the public’s input. Some major steps I would take to ensure/regain public trust are the near-immediate implementation of body-worn cameras and ensuring every cruiser has an operational dash camera. I will establish a sheriff’s advisory council made up of representatives from each community we provide service for. I will immediately stand up a professional website and social media pages to better communicate with the public. But for me and the most important part of all this is that I will lead a cultural shift in the department away from “policing for profit” to community-oriented police that focuses on building strong relationships in our towns and villages and solving the problems faced by those communities. regardless if those problems are speeders, drug dealers, thieves, or domestic abusers. We won’t be some occupying force sitting on the side of Route 4 waiting for the first person running late to work but we will become an integral part of the community, a community partner, protector, and servant.
MT: How would you run the sheriff’s department differently?
RP: As I touched on earlier, cultural shift. When I talk about policing for profit I’m speaking about two things; No. 1 is the sheriff’s hyper-focus on traffic citations to fund the cost of the contracts signed with towns. For years the main and I dare say only focus (on the law enforcement side) of the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department has been signing contracts that pay the sheriff a 5% commission that is focused on revenue generation through traffic citations. The deputies essentially pay for themselves by writing as many tickets as possible, as is department ethos, while wholly ignoring the ever-increasing drug and violence problem facing the county. The second part is that the sheriff employs both his wife and daughter at salaries of $80,000 and $70,000 respectively. I’ll let the voters decide if they think this is acceptable in a professional law enforcement agency.
Contractual law enforcement is an integral part of sheriff’s departments in Vermont due to its unique/convoluted funding structure. This is fine, but what is not fine is the sole focus of a county law enforcement agency to enrich the sheriff and his family while ignoring rising crime. I plan on working with the towns to restructure contracts, changing the scope and focus so that we can better provide modern and professional law enforcement services.
I have a three-prong approach to law enforcement, that I am willing to go into more detail with you on if you would like but it looks like this:
- At risk youth engagement, both formally and info.
- Building better relationships with our social service partners, and getting people help when they need it. Adding a social worker/victims advocate to the department.
Proactive precision policing ,targeting criminals who are victimizing our society.
I understand that traffic safety is a part of public safety and I’m not saying we won’t write tickets, but tickets should be a tool to modify behavior, not a revenue-generating machine.