Waterbury ponders life without its own police
By David Taube
STAFF WRITER | September 29,2012
WATERBURY — An upcoming village vote on whether to ax the local police department has prompted some community leaders to suggest finding a way to preserve those services.
A Tuesday informational meeting showed many business owners support maintaining village police services.
Thatcher Brook Primary School Principal Don Schneider wanted to know what would happen if voters approved the change.
“I don’t have huge discipline needs like a high school, but it’s certainly handy and important to have that local force,” Schneider said on Friday.
At the Nov. 6 general election, village voters will decide whether to abolish their police department. Village officials have suggested the measure could help lead to a long-sought merger with the town. One factor in town residents’ opposition to a merger has been the substantial village police costs.
The department takes up about 80 percent of the village budget and has several full- and part-time employees. If it’s abolished, Vermont State Police would cover the village as they already do for the town.
The possible change worries some due to response times. State police in the Middlesex barracks cover 18 towns, and about three or four troopers typically are on duty at one time, said Vermont State Police Lt. Paul White on Friday.
Schneider gave one example of an incident when it was reassuring to have a police force nearby. This fall school officials didn’t know where one student was, prompting a school-wide search and leading the principal to drive to the student’s home, he said. The police were also called, he said. The school found out the student was with a parent.
Schneider suggested the village police response time is about five minutes but that the state police might need 20 or 30 minutes.
Still he said he’d be OK with the change, and he pointed out that Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury relies on state police. He said he plans to talk with officials at the middle school and Harwood Union High School, also in Duxbury, about how those schools manage without a local police force.
Since the 1990s, attempts to merge the village and town or to share the village police force services and costs with the town have failed.
In 2004 the town and village voted to merge, but town residents petitioned for a revote, which reversed the outcome.
White said at the meeting that the town of Waterbury receives the second most responses from his barracks. Morristown receives the most.
If the village police department is disbanded, he said, Waterbury would probably be the No. 1 demand on the barracks’s time. State police currently don’t cover the village.
That switch could mean services to other towns are affected adversely, he said.
“My opinion is they need a town-wide department, not just a village department, but that’s sort of the opposite direction of where they’re currently looking at going,” White said.
The state police would not be able to provide “quality-of-life” services like directing traffic during the Fourth of July celebration, White said.
Schneider said the school benefits from village officers who park cruisers near crosswalks at the beginning of the school year to remind drivers to slow down.
“As village voters, we should all know if the police force isn’t there, what are our choices. Is it only going to be ‘go to the state police’? Is the next move by the Select Board to go to a full town police force?” Schneider said.
One alternative raised is using constables, who can have law enforcement authority including search, seizure and arrest. The village also could contract with state police for additional coverage.
The next informational meeting is Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria at Thatcher Brook Primary School at 47 Stowe St.
About 25 people attended Tuesday’s meeting.