Senate committee tackles issues of public safety, law enforcement

Government Operations Committee schedules public meetings throughout the state in September and October

PUTNEY — Many studies over the years have focused on law enforcement and public safety in Vermont. A few of the recommendations have been implemented, but the more controversial aspects of each study have gone untouched because many would be unpopular with various segments of both the population and law-enforcement agencies.

However, we are at a point where we must face these issues head on.

During the 2017 legislative session, the Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony from and met individually with members of law enforcement. From those sessions, we came up with a list of questions and concerns.

The committee is now holding meetings around the state in order to be ready for the 2018 legislative session with recommended legislation to address as many of the concerns as is possible.

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Some basic questions must be answered by citizens. What does the public expect/mean by “public safety”? Who is responsible for that public safety? Who should bear the cost? According to the state auditor, the residents of the state are spending $574 million on public safety. Is that a reasonable number? Is it too high? Too low? Are we spending that money wisely?

We heard of inconsistent coverage across the state - some towns have their own departments, some contract with other agencies for coverage, some do nothing and depend on the state police. Have we determined that this is the way it should be, or has it just happened because we have been unwilling to have the discussion?

We have heard of problems with recruitment and retention and that the professionalism of law-enforcement officers varies from agency to agency, even with comparable certifications. We have heard that too often what is meant by coverage in a small town is catching speeders - and that the prime reason for writing the tickets is to balance the budget.

We have seen a general increase in attitudes in the country that vilifies law enforcement officers, making them the bad guys. Are we suffering from the same stereotypes? And, if so, what can we do about it?

These meetings will be open to the public. While we would like to focus our conversations on two main areas - “Coverage - who, what, when, where” and “Administration - including interagency relations, costs, and responsibilities” - we will listen to all information presented to us.

We will hear from as many as time allows. Feel free to also bring written comments.

These public meetings take place:

• Thursday, Sept. 21, 9–11:30 a.m. in Bellows Falls (Rockingham Town Hall on the Square) and 1:30–4 p.m. in White River Junction (Hartford Municipal Building).

• Tuesday, Sept. 26, 9–11:30 a.m., Manchester Community Library and 1:30–4 p.m., Brandon Town Hall.

• Tuesday, Oct. 10, 9–11:30 a.m., St. Johnsbury (NVDA) and 1:30–4 p.m., Newport Municipal Building.

• Tuesday, Oct. 24, 9–11:30 a.m., St. Albans Town Hall and 1:30–4 p.m., Waterbury State Office Complex, Fox Conference Center, Oak Room.

• Tuesday, Nov. 7, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., committee work session.

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