Featured, Local News

Woodstock discusses new police chief

By Katy Savage

The Woodstock Village Trustees held an hour-long community discussion with a consultant as the municipality seeks a new police chief since Robbie Blish announced his retirement, effective July 16.

The Woodstock Village Trustees and consultant Jim Baker held the first of what are expected to be multiple listening sessions on Monday, April 17 to get feedback from the community.  

The Trustees hired Baker for $13,000 last month. Baker, who had 31 years of experience with the Vermont State Police until he retired in 2009, started his consulting business, JW Leadership Consulting, in Arlington, about five years ago. Baker was chief of police in Rutland city for three years and served as interim commissioner at Vermont Department of Corrections in 2020 for just over a year. He now leads police chief searches across the country.

“I know the lay of the land, I know the playing field,” Baker said at the meeting. “I know the people out there who are looking for jobs. I have the benefit of knowing those players and I will work with the manager to screen out the people who meet the qualifications.” 

So far, Baker said he talked to the department heads in Woodstock, police officers and stakeholders. He’s working on a draft advertisement to be broadcast through the New England Chief of Police Association and International Association of Police Chiefs in the month of May. 

A number of residents discussed the challenges and opportunities with the police and their wish list of qualities in a new leader. They wanted someone who had a strong technology background who would enforce speeding, develop a community policing model and be responsive to residents.

“I want someone who’s going to deal with speeding,” said resident Susie Stulz while resident Roger Logan said a list of citations from the police in 2020 showed the department wrote about 1.8 speeding tickets per day. 

“In my opinion that’s a very low number for the amount of roadway we have,” Logan said. “We need to find somebody who has innovative ways of finding strategies for dealing with this.”

Logan said he wanted the Village to use more social services and redirect some of the police budget to harm prevention.

“We are not a high-crime community,” he said. 

Several residents said they didn’t know the current officers and wanted Woodstock to get back to a community policing model, where officers walk in the Village, check locks at night on businesses and have relationships with the residents. 

“It’s been mentioned to us several times,” Baker said. “In some cases, people may not know the other officers passed the chief and the sergeant. That’s a theme we’ve been hearing.”

The Woodstock Police Department provides 24/7 coverage to the Village and is currently budgeted for five full-time officers. The Village has historically had long-serving chiefs with little turnover.  

Blish, who was chief of the department for around 11 years, was paid $91,711 at the time he retired.

The police department’s $1 million budget accounts for 70% of the Village’s total budget. The department brought in $721,370 in revenue last year, according to the budget.  

Baker said he’s planning to advertise the position for the month of May with a cut off date of May 31 for resumes. He will work with the manager to identify the applicants who have a minimum number of qualifications, then conduct phone interviews and validate resumes with a scoring process. 

Baker was asked if he would consider hiring a candidate who’s currently employed by the department. 

“Absolutely, “Baker replied, explaining, “My advice to the town manager was that not putting a process to it is not doing due diligence to find the best possible candidate.”

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