Regional police force stalls out for ‘Mountain Towns’

Members of area select boards and the Londonderry Policing Committee discuss the concept of a regional police force Photo by Bruce Frauman

Members of area select boards and the Londonderry Policing Committee discuss the concept of a regional police force. Clockwise from foreground, Mike Arace, Stephen Lyon, Greg Eckhardt, Jerry Evarts and Paul Gordon. Photo by Bruce Frauman

CORRECTIONS: Jeanette Haight, Andover Town Clerk, has informed us that Andover actually pays $7,000 annually for five hours of policing a month. And also Al Peters was misidentified. He is the Andover Town Constable.


By Bruce Frauman
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After two meetings this fall, members of area select boards and Londonderry’s policing committee have concluded that a regional police force was not in the cards at this point, but agreed on the value of the boards getting together to share information and find areas in which to collaborate.

Earlier this fall, Londonderry Select Board member Paul Gordon asked his counterparts from six “mountain towns” to join him in considering the possibility of forming a regional police force.

With Lt. Tim Oliver of the Vermont State Police retiring next year, Gordon felt there was an opportunity to join with other area towns to hire him and/or other police officers full time. Representatives from Weston, Peru, Windham, Andover, and Landgrove met with Gordon and Londonderry Policing Committee members this fall to consider the proposition.

Gordon said that a very rough estimate of the cost would be about $133,000 per year.

In the last week, the select boards of Peru and Andover chose not to participate. Peru Select Board member Todd Williams wrote Gordon that Peru “does not have a need for policing in town.” Andover Select Board member Jean Peters told Gordon “we are out.” With no town center and no major drug problems plus an existing contract with VSP that “appears to be working,” Andover chose to maintain the status quo. Andover’s contract with VSP costs the town $7,000 a year for about 5 hours a month. a week. The added presence on all the town roads has been noticed by residents, according to Peters.

Dispatching proved to be the “elephant in the room,” according to Gordon. The Vermont State Police does the dispatching for 105 non-state agencies including police, fire and ambulance services in Vermont. Gordon said that Westminster Barracks Commander Lt. Tim Oliver told him that the agency would not take on any new dispatching for local agencies.

In an interview with The Telegraph on Tuesday Dec. 6, Capt. Thomas Hango, commander of VSP emergency communications, confirmed that the agency was not going to be adding new emergency services. “In a perfect world we would reduce or eliminate dispatching for non-state agencies,” said Hango who also noted that a working group is looking at recommendations for the legislature regarding dispatching.  “It could be status quo going forward,” said Hango, “or it could be we look at a fee structure for the towns we now dispatch.”

Gordon said that a rough estimate of the cost of establishing a dispatch function for the towns would be about $150,000 a year. Weston Board member Jim Linville asked about calling 9-1-1. Those calls go to the state police dispatch center in Westminster, according to former police officer Andover Town Constable Al Peters.

Londonderry is nearing the end of a one-year contract with VSP to provide 25 hours per week of patrol and presence at a cost of $86,000 per year. The Policing Committee is expected to propose the same arrangement at the Town Meeting in March 2017.

When the use of constables was discussed, Gordon said “the problem is turnover.” Officers get trained at the Vermont Police Academy, paid for by a town, then “move on to greener pastures.“ In addition, recent changes in state law limit the level of policing constables able to do.

In the end, Gordon concluded that this was a “good try,” but it would come down to Londonderry and Weston unless something changes financially. At best, said Gordon, a regional policing effort would be “down the road.”

The various select board members did agree that meeting together was beneficial. They are enthusiastic about continuing to share ideas.  It was noted that Weston, Londonderry, Peru and Andover are all looking for part-time zoning administrators.  The group discussed getting together again two to four times a year after new board members are elected in March.

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