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Vermont State Police seek to consolidate Brattleboro, Rockingham barracks

— The Vermont State Police will consolidate the Brattleboro and Rockingham barracks of Troop D, provided they can purchase a suitable parcel of land.For three years, the state police have searched for land in the Interstate 91 corridor between Exits 4 and 5, said Allen Palmer, state Building & General Services property management section chief.According to Maj. Bill Sheets, executive officer for the VSP, the department will conduct four preliminary site evaluations this week.A suitable parcel must meet criteria like having easy access to I-91, be at least 20 miles away from Vermont Yankee, not located on a flood plain, and able to receive wireless signals.Palmer acknowledged that the choices are limited.According to Sheets, the Legislature has appropriated $650,000 to purchase the land and design the new station. Still, the project’s completion is at least two years away.“We wanted to go slow to make sure it’ll [the consolidation] work for the communities we serve and our troopers,” Sheets said regarding the project’s time-line. Once completed, the new state-of-the-art building, with an estimated price tag of $4 million, would house troopers from both barracks, dispatchers and the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force, which currently rents office space. The new building will have increased security, according to a 2008 feasibility study conducted by the Department of Public Safety, and Buildings & General Services.The current Brattleboro and Rockingham barracks would be sold.The 2008 feasibility study found the Brattleboro barracks — built in the early 1960s — and the Rockingham barracks — built around 1970 — are “substandard” and have outlived their useful lives.The barracks are converted ranch houses. Both lack secure areas around the buildings. The electric systems are “overloaded.” The offices are over-crowded. Maintaining privacy or separating prisoners is difficult. Brattleboro’s foundation leaks. Neither building fully meets ADA requirements.“It is cheaper to build one new building than to build two ‘new’ buildings,” Sheets said.Troop D serves southeastern Vermont with state police barracks in Royalton, Rockingham and Brattleboro.The Rockingham barracks houses the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) emergency call center, which provides dispatch services for other organizations. Statewide, the VSP provide dispatch services for 128 other agencies.The Royalton barracks, constructed in 2005, meets public safety needs, while the other two do not.The current Guilford Welcome Center satellite office will remain and the Wilmington Police Department has established an “outpost” office for troopers in the field. More outpost locations are pending.Despite the barracks moving farther away from smaller communities like Halifax and Whitingham, the consolidation will free up troopers for patrol, said Sheets.“The goal is to improve the level of service and coverage to our citizens,” Sheets said.For example, two separate barracks translates into two lieutenants heading up two separate commands. Sheets estimates one lieutenant and one or two sergeants would transfer “onto the road.”The coverage would be planned with troopers having designated patrol areas.The department of public safety intends on equipping cruisers with “mobile data units” and cell phones enabling troopers to conduct the bulk of administrative work from the road. Sheets calls the cruisers “offices on wheels.”Partnerships with a municipal police department will help provide office space to ensure areas without proper cell coverage won’t impede troopers’ effectiveness. Wilmington already provides office space for the VSP.Sheets said these moves should improve response time to the smaller communities.“Our roots are rural policing,” he said.According to Sheets, the VSP provides troopers for 200 towns.Often, however, the VSP is “strapped” by calls to larger towns, with or without municipal police departments, diverting troopers from calls to smaller communities.Sheets said the VSP and the Legislature looked into regional policing, where a larger community with a police force partners with nearby towns to create a regional force. However, the concept has not caught on in the current economy. He realizes communities will have concerns about the consolidation.“We need to make sure we do a good job with outreach,” he said.“[Smaller communities] shouldn’t see a change in their service. We’re committed to those towns,” said Lt. Kraig LaPorte, the commander of the Brattleboro barracks.LaPorte said there’s many reasons why consolidation is a good idea. For one, it sends a message to the troops their work is supported.“It’s a change, but when you look at the needs, there’s a lot of positives,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #67 (Wednesday, September 15, 2010).

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