VERNON -- Officials are pursuing new rules governing when -- and for what purpose -- police cruisers can travel beyond town limits.
Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell said she is concerned about "A cruiser that’s going home and staying there even when the officer’s not on duty and not on call."
While officials did not take immediate action at a Monday meeting, O’Donnell said the board must resolve a long-standing issue that raises liability concerns.
"So it needs to be dealt with, once and for all," she said.
O’Donnell said the cruiser regularly is parked at a home in another town. She declined to name the officer involved.
But police Chief Mary Beth Hebert, who is on a leave of absence due to health issues, defended the practice Tuesday in an e-mail response to the Reformer.
Hebert said that, for the small department, having a cruiser available at an officer’s home is "a more effective way of policing and responding to emergency calls."
Hebert added that "There have been several studies done regarding take-home cruisers that show a cruiser is actually the most well-maintained when it is assigned to one officer."
She also noted that there is no "secure place to house the cruisers" at Vernon’s office on Governor Hunt Road.
"The police cruiser is actually less likely to be damaged by vandalism if it is taken home by the officer versus
O’Donnell acknowledged that there could be response-time reasons to allow an on-call officer to take a cruiser home. But she lobbied at Monday’s meeting for the Selectboard to enact a policy that would keep the cars in town if the officer in question is not on duty or on call.
"I think it’s a decision the Selectboard has to make," O’Donnell said. "We are responsible and liable for those cars."
Selectboard member Sandy Harris supported that move. But the other two board members present -- Bob Miller and Jeff Dunklee -- said the Selectboard first should talk with police administrators.
"With our input and theirs, maybe we can figure something out," Miller said.
Hebert offered her "thanks to Mr. Dunklee and Mr. Miller of the board for respecting my department and requesting to speak with us first."
Board members expect to take up the matter again at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Oct. 1.
It is just the latest police-related dispute in Vernon. Selectboard members and police administrators have been at odds for months over a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria cruiser.
Hebert and police Sgt. Bruce Gauld have argued that the cruiser must be replaced, and town voters have authorized cash for a new car. But Selectboard members have adhered to the advice of finance-committee members who ruled that the car has not reached the end of its useful life.
O’Donnell contends that the board is practicing fiscal prudence. But Hebert again referenced the matter in her response to Monday’s cruiser-policy discussion.
"I find it quite remarkable that safety and liability issues are being raised over this when the board has adamantly refused to replace an aging cruiser that has been in the shop nearly every week for the past few months," Hebert said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.