troopers

Vermont State Police have three open trooper positions in the Shaftsbury barracks and nearly three dozen openings statewide. The situation apparently was exacerbated by three recent trooper resignations.

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SHAFTSBURY — The Shaftsbury barracks of Vermont State Police is operating with fewer troopers on staff than authorized — a situation exacerbated in part by the recent resignations of three officers with connections to the local barracks during their careers.

The three troopers, Shawn Sommers, Raymond Witkowski and David Pfindel, resigned amid state and federal investigations into the alleged falsification of their COVID-19 vaccination cards.

VSP public information officer Adam Silverman said that full staffing at the Shaftsbury barracks includes one lieutenant, four sergeants and 11 troopers.

“Currently have three vacancies among the troopers,” he said in an email.

VACANCIES STATEWIDE

Silverman also noted that statewide the VSP has a number of authorized positions that are vacant.

“On the overall issue of VSP staffing, we have an authorized strength of 334 sworn positions, and are currently staffed at about 300 sworn,” he said.

Over the summer, Silverman said, the state Department of Public Safety prepared a memo for Commissioner Michael Schirling regarding law enforcement staffing and projections.

The memo stated in part that “numerous Vermont law enforcement leaders have voiced concern that the profession is rapidly approaching a staffing crisis. Some agencies have already made changes to their service delivery plans to accommodate a dwindling workforce.”

Other police agencies nationally also were said to be finding it difficult to attract enough recruits to fill positions.

REALLOCATING RESOURCES

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The local barracks covers more than a dozen towns in and near Bennington County, and works with local police departments.

Supervising officers in the VSP could not be reached for more information about staffing in this area and how the trooper shortage here is being addressed.

Silverman said Monday that there would be no further comment at this time by VSP on those issues, adding, “Other than to reiterate that ensuring full staffing on patrol shifts remains our priority, and we will reallocate resources as necessary to ensure adequate shift coverage, I have no other updates this week.”

VACCINATION CARDS

In a statement last week, the Department of Public Safety said that Sommers, Witkowski and Pfindel “are suspected of having varying roles in the creation of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards, which may be a violation of federal law.”

Other troopers reported the incident to supervisors, according to the statement, and the agency immediately reported it to federal law enforcement authorities.

State police referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Burlington, and the FBI investigation is continuing.

According to the DPS statement, Sommers and Witkowski joined the Vermont State Police in July 2016 and graduated from the State Police Academy in January 2017. Sommers was assigned to the Rutland Barracks until October 2017, when he transferred to Shaftsbury, and transferred back to Rutland last December.

Pfindel was hired in January 2014, and he transferred from St. Albans to Shaftsbury in February 2016. He became a detective with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in July 2016, and returned to work as a road trooper in April 2020.

According to the VSP website, the barracks provides primary law enforcement services for the towns of Arlington, Dorset, Glastenbury, Landgrove, Peru, Pownal, Readsboro, Rupert, Sandgate, Searsburg, Shaftsbury, Stamford, Sunderland and Woodford, as well as Somerset in Windham County.

The VSP also works with the Bennington County Sheriff's Office and provides assistance as requested to Bennington, Winhall and Manchester Police departments.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com