Police issue likely to be focus of tonight’s budget meeting
By Darren Marcy
FAIR HAVEN -- In what he expects might be a preview of at least a part of tonight’s budget meeting, Fair Haven Police Chief William Humphries held a listening session a week ago to answer questions about the police department and its budget.
Humphries said most of the nearly two dozen people who showed up wanted to talk about the police budget -- some for, some against -- and he’s not sure he changed any minds but he was able to answer some questions.
Tonight the Select Board is hosting a forum, set for 6 p.m. at the Fair Haven Grade School gym, to answer questions and share information with voters, but it’s likely to also again focus on the police department, its budget and the funding for a fourth officer position some have suggested should be cut from the budget.
“We’ve had a couple of forums and at every town meeting, at some point, I get grilled,” Humphries said.
He expects nothing different tonight.
Selectman Bob Richards has been the voice on the board opposing the fourth officer funding -- along with calling for other budget cuts -- and he says he believes the department could do as good a job with three officers as four if they just rearrange some priorities and focus.
But, Humphries says it’s a different world than the one that was policed with just three full-time officers.
“If we lose that person it will put is back to 2005,” Humphries said. “In 2005 we weren’t experiencing the call volume we have now.”
And at the top of the pile of concern is the drug problem.
“The stronger Rutland gets -- and I applaud them -- but it’s going to push things off on to us,” Humphries said about the expected move of drug dealers and issues from Rutland to outlying communities as the county’s largest community battles the drug issue.
“When I started here, we probably didn’t need the fourth officer,” he said. “But we need it now.”
The chief said the difference between three and four officers is coverage.
He said his officers answer a lot more calls during the day, but the calls that come at night end in more arrests and people have come to expect that if they need an officer at 3 a.m., they’ll be there.
“They expect someone to show up,” he said. “We can be to any part of Fair Haven in about 3 minutes.”
He is convinced the police presence is one of the reasons Fair Haven has not seen is convenience stores robbed while others all over the county have.
“I believe that we have not had our stores get held up because we’re around there all the time,” Humphries said. “It’s hard to put a price on what you do deter.”
Because of some criticism, the town prepared a pamphlet detailing answers to some of the most common questions people have had about the police department.
“Those are the most frequently asked questions we hear from residents,” Humphries said. “We were trying to solve some of those.”
One of the chief critiques of the department is that Fair Haven police are too often not in Fair Haven.
Richards is one of those, saying he wants Fair Haven police in Fair Haven.
Richards said he’s understands there is a drug problem.
“The bottom line is everybody knows there’s a drug problem in every town,” Richards said. “The best way to protect people in town is to stay put. Stay home.”
Humphries said there are a number of legitimate reasons he or his officers might not be in town.
He said his officers have to transport prisoners to Rutland, interview suspects or witnesses, testify in court, and attend training and meetings.
“There are a lot of reasons you’d see our car not here,” Humphries said. “Crime doesn’t stop here. The players run back and forth.”
There is also mutual aid, but that’s a two-way street.
“Castleton comes over here and the Poultney constable helps us,” he said. “One hand washes the other.”
Richards said he will again vote against the budget and encourages others to do the same.
“I think people are kind of angry we sent back the same budget,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of anger out there. At least the people who are talking to me. I would not be surprised if it gets shot down again. I’m not going to support it again.”
There was an effort by Richards to make the fourth officer the subject of a separate vote, but he was outvoted 3-2, garnering the support of only board chairman Chris Cole.
Tonight’s meeting is at 6 p.m. at the grade school. Another public forum will be held at 7 p.m. July 14 also at the grade school.
The budget will be voted on 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 15 at the American Legion in Fair Haven.