Board begins looking at Chester police policies, complaint procedures

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Police issues took center stage in separate discussions at the Chester Select Board meeting on Wednesday Nov. 4 as questions of policies, complaint procedures and a new budget hit proposed by the Vermont State Police.

Police Chief Rick Cloud explains the new State Police charges for its dispatch service. Photos courtesy of SAPA-TV

Board chair Arne Jonynas noted that the issue of policing and use of force had been in front of the legislature and legislation had been passed. Town Manager Julie Hance said that a statewide standard was part of that bill, which became law in early October without Gov. Phil Scott’s signature.

The law requires the state to come up with the statewide use of force policy that won’t become effective until July 1, 2021.

Hance said that the issue for Chester is a “not-really-sufficient complaint form process” while noting that the state is also looking at internal affairs policies. Board members received model policies in their packets and Hance said that those documents are far enough along that the town could adopt them and make changes to the policies if the state comes up with other standards next year.

Asked by Jonynas to comment, Police Chief Rick Cloud said that Chester Police have generally handled complaints in-house but, the department’s handling of a complaint must be reviewed by a state committee  to ensure proper procedures were followed.

Cloud added that complaints against a police chief are handled by the state.

Cloud said that the model policy of South Burlington was developed by a police force that has far more resources to than a small town does. But he noted that the help of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns has been valuable.

Chester resident Leslie Thorsen explains her thoughts on the police complaint process and written procedures

“Should we start using this at this time,” asked Jonynas.

Hance said the complaint process needs to be redrafted specific to Chester, then brought to a future meeting for adoption.

Board member and part-time Chester Police officer Jeff Holden said that he did not think it is fair that someone can make a false complaint and that the officer can’t face his accuser.  But Cloud noted that for a complaint to go forward a complainant will be interviewed. And if the complaint goes to a hearing by the select board all sides will be heard.

Chester resident Leslie Thorsen told the board that without written procedures for police actions, such as traffic stops and serving process, it is difficult to make a complaint that shows that something  has been done incorrectly.

Hance said that seems more like procedures or best practices rather than policies to which Thorsen asked why police do not have written copies of routine procedures so citizens can refer to them as well.

Board reviews public safety budgets

With the heads of each department in the meeting, Hance presented to Select Board members the proposed budgets for fire, police, ambulance and communications, for which they had few questions or objections.

The Chester Select board hearing from the heads of police, fire and ambulance departments

But a jump in the cost of communications — telephone, cellphone and emergency dispatch service — caught the eye of board members. Cloud explained that the Vermont Department of Public Safety has proposed charging a fee for dispatching the Chester Police Department and 28 other agencies. Currently the Vermont State Police relays 911 calls and other information to the Chester Police Department and does not charge for the service.

But as part of a modernization process, the state has decided to charge for the service and determined that the cost per call for dispatch is $53.39. Using the 2018 call volume of departments using VSP for dispatch has come up with a proposed fee schedule that would be rolled out in one quarter increments during the first four years. Chester’s bill would start at $14,776 and rise to $59,103 by year four.

“They don’t want to dispatch for other agencies,” said Cloud, noting that Springfield dispatches its own police but is not interested in dispatching for Chester because it would involve putting on more employees. Cloud said he would reach out to Hartford (which also dispatches the Chester Fire Department and Ambulance Service.)

In an interview on Monday, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said the idea of charging for dispatch has been around for years and the state bears the cost of dispatching for local agencies like Chester that don’t have dispatchers.

Schirling told The Telegraph that the calculations made to date are based only on the personnel costs of 64 dispatchers and does not include overhead, maintenance, radio upkeep or the pro-rated salaries of management. He also noted that basing each agency’s bill on the number of times it uses the dispatch center gives them the opportunity to find ways to limit calls.

Speaking directly to his budget, Ambulance Service Coordinator Dan Cook told the board that many items his crews use are substantially more expensive due to the pandemic while at the same time the number of calls the ambulance is going out on is down by 40 to 50 this year over last. He noted that people are not calling the ambulance because they are afraid of going to the hospital. Cook also said that state and federal regulations have made purchasing more difficult and expensive.

Speed study, Town Hall acoustic panels, sign color

Hance told the board that the speed studies on Andover Road had been halted because the variation between warm and cold temperatures had caused breakage in the strips used to record speeds. She said that Chester Police hoped to resurrect its portable speed sign and keep it going long enough to get some data. At the time of the meeting it was near Potash Brook Road on the straightaway facing the intersection with Route 11.

Town Manager Julie Hance asks for permission to add acoustic panels to the installation of a new sound system at Town Hall.

A new sound system for the 2nd floor of Town Hall – which should make hybrid live and remote meetings less difficult – will be installed as soon as all the parts have arrived and Hance asked the board for permission to purchase the acoustic panels it has discussed in past meetings. She noted that getting the job done all at once would save time and money. The room has to be cleared out for sound analysis while the panels are being installed and the $12,000 price tag will come out of the “revitalization” line in the town budget.

Jonynas and others were concerned about how the panels would look, but voted to give Hance permission to buy the panels.

“I hope they know what they are doing,” said Jonynas.

And finally, the board took on the task of choosing between two colors – Essex Green and Newburyport Blue – for the wayfinding signs discussed in the Town Center Master Plan. Hance told the board that Essex Green had been the choice of the Implementation Committee, but that a number of people had felt that the use of greens has been done by many towns and wanted something that was a classic color but more distinctive. The Master Plan consultants suggested the blue and each board member spoke about the relative merits of each of the colors and finally voted for blue.

“That was painful,” said Board member Lee Gustafson.

 

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  1. Why are the state police asking to be reimbursed for services we the tax payer already pay for?

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