CLARENDON — There’s a lot of crime in town these days, according to the county sheriff, so much it draws from time that might otherwise be spent enforcing speed limits.
Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard went before the Select Board on Monday to discuss local law enforcement issues and the possibility of the town purchasing an additional 10 hours per week devoted to traffic enforcement.
Clarendon and Wallingford have a deal with the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department where the towns split 40 hours of patrol time. Clarendon pays $39,626 annually for 20 hours of enforcement per week.
Several weeks ago, the board discussed comments from residents alleging they rarely see a deputy on traffic patrol. One of the deputies told town officials this might be because their time is being taken up by other calls.
“He’s not inaccurate. Clarendon is, per man hours, one of the busiest towns we have,” Benard told the board Monday. “Firearms and animal cruelty problems, bad checks, burglaries, citizen disputes, motor vehicle stops, serving abuse prevention orders — in total there were 89 complaints in town since July 1.”
He said there’s an online tool that towns with sheriff’s department contractors can use to see incident reports not long after they’re filed. Benard said the department began using this system to save on paperwork. No towns he knows of use it like this, but it’s possible for select boards to make access to these reports public, and, that way, people can see what’s been happening.
Benard said the reports aren’t detailed; they leave out names, for instance. His only concern with making them open is, someone could look at the time stamps and suss out when deputies are on patrol.
“I guess I misunderstood it and felt misled,” said Selectman Cash Ruane, who is also the road commissioner. “I feel taxpayers in town feel the same way I do: Why are we paying 20 hours a week for other violence going on in town? … a lot of taxpayers feel the way I do, that this was for patrolling the roads for high-speed vehicles going through town.”
Benard said he’s had this conversation with other towns.
“The town of Clarendon is in agreement with the town of Wallingford for 40 hours per week,” he said. “They pay for 20 hours, Clarendon pays for 20 hours, so essentially you get eight hours a day of coverage. If (a deputy) is on patrol in the town of Wallingford and there’s a call in Clarendon, he’ll come over here.”
Benard said he himself was on patrol four hours last week, and between him and another deputy they wrote 69 tickets. Since July 1, 106 tickets have been issued, he said.
“We recognize that with the amount of criminal complaints that are going on that we don’t have the time we used to have, even five years ago, to dedicate to motor vehicle enforcement,” he said.
Benard said another issue is that non-emergency calls that come in while no deputy is on duty get held by the State Police then transferred to the sheriff’s office when a deputy comes on.
He said Wallingford has decided to contract for an extra 10 hours of dedicated traffic patrols.
“We don’t sign on with the State Police, so any criminal complaints will go to them, unless it’s something like a serious car crash,” he said.
Board Chairman Michael Klopchin said budgeting season is coming up, and the board will consider adding those 10 hours.
Ruane said if voters had a more complete understanding of how the patrols work, they might be in favor of the additional hours.
At the last town meeting, Clarendon voters rejected a proposal that would have raised the number of sheriff’s hours to 40.
At one point, the town relied on its constables, but a state law was passed requiring those people to be full police officers. For financial reasons, the town contracted with the sheriff’s department.
Benard said there’s a shortage of police in the Rutland area.
“The State Police are understaffed, they’re short up at this barracks,” he said. “Rutland City (Police Department) I believe is short around six people, so there’s less law enforcement to go around.”
He said his own patrol division has enough people, but “as far as having enough people to do all the demands the state puts on us for transports and all of the requested grants and traffic work, the business side of the sheriff’s office, yeah, I could use two or three more people.”
Finding qualified people to hire is a struggle for any agency.
“That’s not a county problem or a local problem. That’s a nationwide problem,” he said.