PUTNEY — While the community policing contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Office will continue until December, the town is looking for resident input on Thursday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m., about whether to pursue another option.
After the WCSO rescinded its contract with Putney and reduced the amount of policing hours in town by 50 percent, some town officials and residents have felt there have been communication problems between the two entities. Locals also felt backhanded when their loved officer, Corporal Melissa Evans, was re-stationed to Vernon with little notice.
Despite any hard feelings, the town has made efforts to move forward and make amends with Sheriff Keith Clark and continue with the WCSO policing until at least December. In the meantime, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard has announced that a joint Select Board and Public Safety Meeting will be held at the Fire Station to discuss future policing option for when the contract runs out in December.
"My hope is that a lot of people show up to the meeting and will really guide us and give us some direction of what they want to see their public safety be, for police, fire and emergency. It's a good way to get it all out there," said Stoddard.
She said this meeting will be focused around the current community policing contract and exploring all four options for the future of Putney. Those options include renewing a contract with WCSO, signing a contract with Vermont State Police, utilizing a constable, or building a police department for Putney.
A constable is a statutorily appointed position in the town of Putney, with very limited ability to "do things" if not properly trained, Stoddard said. She noted that the former constable, Henry Farnum, resigned about a year ago and there is no appointed constable at this time.
The discussion of exploring the option of utilizing VSP for community policing came about after Putney was told its contract with the Sheriff's Office would be rescinded and then reduced to 20 hours instead of 40 from WCSO deputies. VSP troopers attended Select Board meetings a couple of months ago to pitch which services they could provide to the town. In the end the Select Board voted to continue with community policing from WCSO.
In a similar time frame that the VSP policing option was brought up, so was the idea of building a police department in Putney. Stoddard notes the benefit of a police department in Putney is that it would be within the town's control to direct the officer(s) of that station.
"The Public Safety Committee is looking into all of these option and trying to gauge from the public what their concerns are — do they feel we need full-time policing, more traffic enforcement, or do they feel crime is going on that someone needs to investigate? These are all things we are trying to gauge from the public and what we learn from Public Safety Committee in the next following weeks," said Stoddard.
At a Select Board meeting in late June, individuals spoke up about further communication issues they noticed at a Public Safety Committee between Clark and Stoddard. Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard made some comments at a June meeting as an individual and not on behalf of the fire department. He said he was concerned with the "obvious blatant degree" of disrespect on the part of the sheriff toward Stoddard and he felt it was "pretty significant." Goddard also noted there was some disrespect toward the committee and he hopes the matter is ironed out. He advised the Select Board that if the disrespect continues, the board should "look in a different direction."
Stoddard had felt also intentionally left out of a the newly proposed contract between the WCSO and Putney. The contract that Putney was previously under until June 30, stated the scope of services provided to the town as well as "...other policing needs as directed or requested by the Select Board and Town Manager." The contract for the period of July 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016 stated it will provide these other policing needs as requested by the Select Board, leaving out the town manager in that agreement.
Since some of the issues, Stoddard and Chairman Joshua Hearne met with Clark to iron some of the matters. Hearne noted they were able to leave the meeting with Clark, feeling like all sides were expressed and heard.
Of all the discussion around this matter so far, Stoddard said she feels residents are leaning more toward community policing options with VSP or WCSO, but notes that her communication with townspeople on this matter has been limited so far, hence the push for a more engaged joint meeting on Thursday. She said it is important for people to understand how all these different options would operate, and she believes the community does not have a great understanding of why the town has contracts with different agencies or how places like WCSO or VSP are funded.
Now, looking forward. Stoddard said she hopes many will show for the joint PSC and Select Board Meeting on Thursday to express their concerns. However, she notes that over the past few months, there has not been much attendance at these discussions.
"Policing is one of those things, unless you have something happen to you or are directly involved with something the police are involved in, you may never have any interaction with them. People take for granted they are there," Stoddard said.
No vote is to come directly out of this meeting on Thursday, but the goal is to have questions answered and perhaps create some type of proposal, decision or at least discussion for people to have at Town Meeting to vote on. However, Stoddards notes that if discussing the building of a police department in Putney, that is a "bigger question" to be voted on.
"I don't expect a vote until Town Meeting or later," she added.
For more information on the matter, Stoddard suggested reviewing meeting minutes from the Public Safety Committee and Select Board, by watching videos from BCTV of Select Board meetings, or asking Stoddard any questions. Stoddard can be reached at 802-387-5862 ext 11.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.