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Public safety concerns to be aired at community meeting

PUTNEY—Town officials are urging townspeople to attend an Aug. 18 community meeting on public safety and law enforcement.

At the meeting, hosted by the town’s Public Safety Committee and the Selectboard, town officials hope to get input from residents on their public safety concerns and what type of police service the town should have.

Although the Selectboard expected to renew their contract with the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, this year presented an unexpected challenge.

At the end of May, just about six weeks before the fiscal-year 2016 contract expired, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard received word from the Sheriff’s Department that it couldn’t honor the fiscal year 2017 contract that Stoddard had expected to sign.

That contract was to go into effect July 1.

Citing a labor shortage, the Department informed the town it could no longer patrol Putney for 40 hours per week and would have to decrease coverage.

They offered Putney a six-month contract for an average of 80 hours per month at a cost of $4,246.67 per month. Last year’s contract cost the town $4,500 per month for twice the coverage hours.

The Selectboard and the Public Safety Committee held several meetings to discuss the issue, leading the Board to sign the six-month contract.

Part of their decision in signing a short-term agreement was to buy some time to figure out what to do next. The officials’ expressed goal is to “get as much input as possible to make an informed decision when this contract is completed,” according to the news release announcing the meeting.

During the June 13 Public Safety Committee meeting, members discussed other law-enforcement options for the town, including: “Do nothing” and allow the Vermont State Police to cover emergencies only; enter into a community policing contract with the state police; contract with the Sheriff’s Department for no more than 20 hours per week primarily for traffic enforcement; define the role of the town constable and fill the position; or, “form our own Police Department."

In addressing the latter, Putney resident and Brattleboro Police Department Detective Lieutenant Jeremy Evans submitted to the committee a 30-page proposal on creating their own municipal police force.

The detailed report covers a variety of aspects for establishing and maintaining the department, including a code of ethics, how to handle a crime scene, budget projections, and a timeline for implementation.

In an email to The Commons, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard said she had invited representatives from other towns, and from the Sheriff’s Department and the state police, to the meeting but hasn’t yet received confirmations.

The Public Safety Concerns Community Meeting is at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the Putney Fire Station, 21 Carl Snyder Drive. Stoddard strongly encourages the public to attend and asked those with input, questions, or suggestions prior to the meeting to contact her at 802-387-5862, ext. 11.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #370 (Wednesday, August 17, 2016). This story appeared on page C4.

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