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Town renews contract for police patrols

Windham County Sheriff’s Department contract costs will rise

DUMMERSTON—Although Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark assured the Selectboard he has “always tried to keep [his] costs low” and pass his department’s savings onto the towns he serves, costs for the town’s 18{1/2} hours per month of police patrols have gone up enough this year to necessitate raising rates.

Despite the increase, the board voted 4-1 to renew the town’s yearly contract.

Clark gave this news to the Selectboard at the July 8 meeting when he came to discuss the town’s new contract, rising costs of law enforcement, increasing patrols, and how the town’s residents can help calm traffic.

Board Vice-Chair Joe Cook said he appreciates the department’s situation, but he asked Clark for advance warning in anticipation of future contract increases so the town can build those increases into the municipal budget.

Clark told Cook he plans to begin analyzing costs in the fall, and will pass on that data to the towns. The one unpredictable variable, Clark said, is fuel costs.

Selectboard Assistant and Town Treasurer Laurie Frechette noted in fiscal year 2015, the town budgeted $9,600 for law enforcement and received fine revenue of $9,146.

The board asked Clark if he would recommend increasing the number of hours his department patrols the town, and what the minimum number of hours should be.

“What benefit are you looking for if we’re only in town a few hours a week?” Clark responded.

He explained his deputies cannot take the time to know people in the town and resolve issues if they there so briefly and if some of those hours include traffic control.

“If we can keep things from happening, that’s what we’re looking at,” Clark added.

“I learned this a long time ago as a patrol officer —• being out on the road and just talking with folks, that’s how I learned what was going on, and really where the issues were and how to best resolve those,” Clark said.

He added it is that philosophy that he wants his department to bring to the towns it serves.

Eight hours per week “at least gives us a chance to spend some time in the town” to know the issues, especially those that are not reported, and meet with the town clerk, Clark said.

Doing so will enable the town to “make better use of the money you’re spending on law enforcement,” Clark explained, adding, “the more hours, the lower the price-point becomes.”

After his department analyzes its data, it will send a letter to the town in the fall with its recommendation for the number of hours the town should contract, said Clark.

That recommendation will not come as an edict to the town; rather, it will “open discussion” between Dummerston and the Sheriff’s Department, Clark said.

Should the town and the sheriff agree that the town needs more patrol hours, specifically for traffic control, Clark said his department could likely find grant money to fund that expense.

Board Clerk Gurudharm Khalsa asked Clark if his department’s reporting is accurate, referring to a discrepancy earlier this year between what the department claimed it patrolled and the number of hours it actually spent in town.

Clark assured Khalsa the software issue has been fixed, and the reporting is accurate.

Board Chair Zeke Goodband told Clark many residents, “including my wife’s chickens,” have issues with cars speeding through town. He asked Clark if the best strategy is to call in complaints or “leave it to your deputies who are cruising around town” to determine areas of enforcement.

“Both,” Clark replied.

The sheriff said residents can report problem areas and times of day when they notice speeding cars by sending his department an email, leaving a phone message, or talking to deputies as they patrol.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #315 (Wednesday, July 22, 2015). This story appeared on page C1.

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