WESTMINSTER—For years, state troopers based in Windham County had to work around obstacles that have nothing to do with criminal activity — problems like cramped quarters, outdated electrical systems, subpar security, and an evidence area that “leaked like a sieve.”
On Aug. 18, state police opened the Westminster complex’s doors to the press and public to show off improvements including enhanced security and evidence-handling infrastructure; greatly expanded work and storage space; and a modern dispatching center that handles thousands of emergency calls every month.
But Lt. Tim Oliver, who commands the new barracks, made clear that he doesn’t expect his troopers to spend a lot of time there.
“Their cruiser will be their base,” Oliver said. “This will just be a logistical, administrative area.”
The new barracks was in the works for years as officials grappled with the limitations of the former Brattleboro and Rockingham barracks, where troopers had been stationed for more than 40 years.
In Brattleboro, officials had been forced to upgrade the electrical system at the tiny, modular-style barracks on Western Avenue because it “couldn’t handle the load” of modern office equipment, recalled Capt. Rick Hopkins, a regional state police commander in southern Vermont.
Also, “the evidence was in the basement, which leaked like a sieve,” Hopkins said. The Rockingham barracks had no basement at all and was “completely out of space,” he added.
Close quarters also were a problem for regional emergency dispatchers, who were based at the Rockingham barracks and handle 5,000 to 6,000 911 calls every month.
“We had as many as seven dispatchers in a space that was really built for four,” said Tom Field, the state’s Public Safety Answering Point administrator in Westminster. “The sound became overwhelming at times when it was busy.”
The new Westminster barracks, located just off Exit 5 of Interstate 91, solves that problem. The building hosts 25 full-time and six part-time emergency dispatchers, giving them adequate room to work while also providing a few additional workstations in case a major emergency strikes the area.
There are also 21 uniformed troopers and five supervisors working out of the new barracks, which covers Windham County, southern Windsor County and a sliver of Bennington County. The number of troopers patrolling the area has stayed the same, officials said, but there is now one fewer lieutenant and two fewer sergeants.
“There is less overhead and less administrative staff at this location,” Hopkins said.
State police officials say they don’t expect response times to suffer, even though they’ve consolidated their physical presence in Windham County. The Westminster barracks is about a 20-mile drive north of Brattleboro.
Oliver argues that Westminster is “probably the best strategic location to cover our area of responsibility. It’s right on the interstate, and it’s centrally located within the counties that we cover.”
He stressed, however, that troopers may not often be taking calls from desks at the barracks.
“The troopers all have equipment in their vehicles to operate out of their cruisers, so they sign on duty from their residences. We don’t expect them to come here and wait for a call,” Oliver said. “What they do is, they’ll go out into their assigned areas — their patrol areas — and that’s where they’ll be operating out of.”
“We have patrol commanders who set up day-to-day operations to ensure that all the areas are being covered and patrolled,” he added.
When troopers are working in Westminster, they’ll find a more secure, more spacious barracks. For starters, there’s a fenced-in area where cruisers can park and troopers can exit and enter the building — a feature that didn’t exist at the old barracks.
If troopers are bringing a suspect into the building, they can pull into an enclosed area and enter directly into a processing room that includes two holding cells as well as space for paperwork, mug shots and drunken-driving tests.
“This is much more functional for us to work in,” Oliver said.
Nearby, a large work room for troopers isn’t meant as a home base so much as a “place to sit down if you want to write a long report,” Hopkins said.
Across the hallway, a separate wing with electronic equipment, a conference table, and several smaller offices houses six state police detectives plus Lt. Dan Trudeau, who leads the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in this region.
“We pretty much have everything we need here,” Trudeau said.
He also touted new evidence-handling procedures that include secure lockers, restricted access, and a bar-coding system for categorizing material. “It’s a lot more efficient,” Trudeau said.
He spoke not far from another office that houses a different kind of law enforcement: As he sat at his new desk, state Game Warden David Taddei said he appreciates the storage and workspace.
“It definitely facilitates a better working relationship with Vermont State Police,” Taddei said. “And it gives me a place to work so I’m not in their way.”