Law enforcement bill draws concern


DOVER -- Police Chief Randy Johnson believes a new bill that moved into the Senate will hurt his department.

"If this all goes through, the Police Academy is going to have to come up with their standards. (Part-time officers) are going to be limited to what calls they can (go on)," he said. "This is something that's in the works and it's going to happen."

On April 1, Johnson spoke of the new legislation that would leave certification levels up to the academy. If enacted, the legislation could go into effect by July 2015.

There would be three levels to the new system that would affect what officers can and cannot do during their responses.

"Maybe one can only handle misdemeanors and not felonies," said Johnson, who had previously traveled to Montpelier to hear Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark give testimony.

Clark was not supportive of the bill when it was first introduced to the House of Representatives. It originally sought to completely eliminate the part-time certification program for training in the state.

"I felt that that was sort of a very rash approach and it was unnecessary," said Clark.

One reason for the initial lack of support was that part-timers would struggle to get time off for 16 weeks of training.

"It does not make sense to have someone go for 16 weeks when I'm only using them on occasion for very specific kinds of work. Changing it to a level or tier system makes more sense," said Clark.

The Sheriff's Association supports the current bill that is being discussed in the Senate. Clark told the Reformer that there will be components of it that will need adjustment but it is better than eliminating the program altogether.

This week, he had traveled to Montpelier to give testimony to the Senate. Time had run out before he could speak so he is planning to go again next week as there are still questions and concerns.

"There are a lot of things to consider here. We'll see what happens. I'm not convinced at this point that the committees on the Senate side will vote it out. I think there will be some debate in the Senate chamber," added Clark.

Currently, part-time Dover officers work shifts by themselves, especially during the summer. Johnson mentioned a hypothetical situation if the bill passed.

If a felony, such as an aggravated assault, were to occur, the part-time officer may not be allowed to conduct an investigation. The officer could only handle security at the scene, making make sure all parties are safe. There would need to be an officer with a certain level of training then, on call.

"We'll probably have to pay them a stipend. I can't say, 'You have to stay in town,'" added Johnson.

The new requirement would hurt the department more in the summer, he believed. That time of year tends to be when officers go on vacation or to the academy for more training.

Johnson told the Selectboard that he may have to consider asking that all officers go through full academy training. Board member Tom Baltrus pointed out that the qualification would be more expensive for the town.

"It's going to be a fiasco," said Johnson.

Selectboard Chairman Randy Terk pointed out a potential opportunity.

"Does it create an opportunity for us within our part-time officer community, because we have raised their level of certification, to create a pool of potential full-time officers we otherwise couldn't because they wouldn't have that level of certification? We may want to, for our benefit, pay to let them be certified," he said.

Terk suggested that if Johnson tended to disagree with the bill, he should draft a letter to state senators Peter Galbraith and Jeanette White, who both represent the town.

According to Clark, over the next few years, smaller departments will have to adjust how they operate due to the way departments have come to rely on part-time officers.

"But they may find this may meet their needs in a better way. It certainly reduces some of the liability risks," he concluded.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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