Williston, VT- In the midst of Vermont’s workforce crisis, police departments across the state have seen a sharp decline in staffing numbers in recent years, but two departments in Northwest Vermont say while they haven’t been affected as much, the framework of their whole departments still need overhauling.
After a sharp rise in retail thefts last winter, Williston Town Manager Erik Wells approached the select board about doing an analysis of the town’s police services. One year later, that study showed the department doesn’t have adequate resources, and it’s recommended the town add another 11 officers and staff members to the currently allotted 17.
“We really need to look at the future of the department,” said Wells, “and the future of what it means to deliver the types of services we want to provide. A key concept in the report is the concept of coproduction of public safety. Looking at the community health and policing, and where the intersection meets.”
The study also proposes moving the Restorative Justice Center near Tafts Corners, where more crimes are historically committed. While the select board is in the process of formulating the next steps and going through the public engagement process, Wells says beefing up certain areas of the staff will be a priority.
Wells said, “Looking to stand up the detective unit, that’s dedicating to start with an officer that would handle those ongoing investigations.”
Forty miles north in Swanton, the Village Police Chief Matthew Sullivan says his staff is full, but it still doesn’t have enough manpower for their rising number of calls and is only able to provide services for the town of Swanton during evening hours. He also says the town offices, where they are currently located, aren’t in good enough condition and don’t have enough space for them to expand.
Sullivan says, “It’s a tight area, I don’t know if it’s the wind that whips through the ceiling, but I thought there were animals running around.”
Voters will make a decision in March whether to approve the construction of a new facility across the street for police and fire departments, along with adding officers to accommodate an around-the-clock police coverage plan. According to Sullivan, that could add another $1,000 to an average voter’s tax bill, but no matter the decision, the current setup isn’t working.
Both Wells and Sullivan say that while it will likely be a hefty price tag for voters to back the overhauls to their respective departments, they are necessary to provide sufficient public safety work.