Military and Police

De-Policing Vermont

Yet another police department is closing. This time in Randolph, Vermont, a picturesque village smack in the middle of the Green Mountain State, about 27 miles south of Montpelier, near the Connecticut River. The town’s population was just under 2,000 as of the 2010 census.

Many years ago, I lived in Vermont for a short time, about 70 miles south of Randolph. It’s a beautiful area that, fortunately, doesn’t have a huge need for police. But, no matter where you live, when you do need the cops, you sure want the cops—now!

WCAX, the CBS Burlington affiliate is reporting that the people of Randolph are wondering what they will do now that all their officers have left, essentially disbanding the police department. The officers have either retired or left to take other opportunities. As each officer left, the village’s Selectboard decided not to fill the positions.

Instead, they are now contracting for law enforcement services with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. This new arrangement will now cost $300,000 down from $600,000 annually. Saving money is great, but residents are wondering, rightly so, about issues like police response times and nearby schools and the hospital, which may now go unpatrolled by law enforcement. One resident said he feels that to “Have a quicker response time and just more of a presence here I think would be important.” I agree.

Counties, being larger than towns and often more rural (Orange County is 687 square miles compared with 48 square miles for Randolph), and their deputies don’t always have the luxury municipal cops do to conduct more frequent crime prevention patrols in their cars. Or even go out on foot beats for a stroll down Main Street on a warm summer afternoon or during the Christmas shopping season. Also, being so large, unless deputies can be dedicated to the town, which is doubtful, when people call 911, deputies may be on the other side of the county.

Reportedly, the town of Waterbury, VT also disbanded its police force. Vermont State Police troopers now serve the town. Again, as with county sheriff’s deputies, state troopers are spread pretty thin. However, in this case, two “resident” troopers are dedicated to the town.

There are always tradeoffs when these public safety compromises happen. So many local governments these days want to do other more “important” things with their tax money—you know, like fighting global warming. Now, I have no idea if that’s the case in Randolph, but when you have a Selectboard member saying, “Not having a police force is a really great way to take a fresh look to see what the needs of the town are [italics mine],” I have to wonder about his priorities. He actually seems happy about losing the town’s cops.

God forbid if anything like the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were to occur. If it did, I can guarantee you the Selectboard would make a police department a priority in an instant. That’s often the problem for law enforcement, though. You never know how much crime the police prevent because the crime didn’t happen. There’s no property stolen or damaged and, more importantly, no victims.

I’m not saying all towns have to have their own police departments. Some towns are tiny, with only double or triple-digit populations. They’re tied to other larger, neighboring communities for services i.e., businesses, banks, schools, churches, hospitals, fire department, and law enforcement. But it seems with a population of a couple thousand, the rewards are likely worth the expenditures.

For example, a Marshal’s Office serves the Western-themed town of Winthrop, Washington whose population is about 400. The force is comprised of a marshal and two deputies. By the way, this town doesn’t even measure one square mile.

Regardless of a jurisdiction’s size, because of the crime-prevention role cops play, people may get lulled into a false sense of security. They may begin to believe an illusion that the cops aren’t necessary. Is this happening in Randolph? For the sake of the folks living and working there, I hope not. It’s similar to people choosing to go without insurance. It’s a great savings, until you need it.

High Risk/Low Frequency incidents, as the name denotes, are rare (such as school shootings), but they do occur. And no locale or school is exempt from the possibility. You can hope a tragedy won’t occur, but are you willing to bet your kids’ lives on it?

And what makes a town’s school or church more attractive to the scum that would shoot innocent people, including children, a town with cops or a town without cops? Public safety is not about writing traffic tickets to fill city coffers. It’s about being there just in case. Again, as with an insurance policy, you hope you never have to use it, but you’re ecstatic to have it if you ever need it and regretful if you don’t.

Whether serving a pulsing metropolis, a quaint New England village, or a Western-themed town, today’s politicians often say public safety is a priority. They extoll the benefits of community policing. Cops out in public, meeting and getting to know the folks they serve, and being a visible deterrent for criminals.

But how can that be true when we have town officials willing to say goodbye to their cops, even viewing their loss as a happy accident and a chance to “experiment” with a community’s safety?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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