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Killington's top cop proposes forming a department

Killington's police officer in charge is asking the town's three-man Select Board to form a town police department and appoint officers to positions within it, a move that would do away with elected constables and a lack of information on offenders in town.
The idea, proposed last week by longtime town Second Constable Whit Montgomery under the 2013 budget the Board recently approved ($79,500), would do away with politics in law enforcement and would allow Montgomery and two other part-time officers, when hired, to access more information than just Vermont criminal and traffic histories.

The Select Board was expected to weigh in on an article for the March Town Meeting Day ballot for voters Jan. 29 that would ask voters to give them the sole authority to appoint a first constable and a second constable if needed, paving the way toward a town police department accountable to the town manager and the Select Board as opposed to the current constable structure, which allows anyone, regardless of law enforcement background, to run for either position and win based on the number of votes each March.

Currently, according to Montgomery, when he (the only constable in town following the departure this year of First Constable Scott Bigelow) makes a traffic stop of a car with an out-of-state license plate he can only access driving infractions that driver made in Vermont, not the drivers home state or any other state, which potentially limits crucial information.

For Montgomery, that poses a problem.

But even more, Montgomery said in an interview last week, he doesn't believe law enforcement in Killington should be based on a "popularity contest," each year at an annual meeting.

"I truly feel law enforcement should not be asking for votes," Montgomery said during his presentation to the Select Board. "I feel this can lead to corruption, selective enforcement, bullying and invites politics into law enforcement, where it should have no place. The Constable is not a position of power, it is about responsibility and maturity to act wisely in potentially serious/dangerous situations."

Prior to last year, Killington voters gathered in the Killington Elementary School gym and nominated, by voice vote, who they wanted to run law enforcement operations in town, in traditional town meeting style.

Bigelow and Montgomery were always present.

Last year, the meeting was switched to be based solely on paper ballot votes.

Montgomery said he wasn't proposing a police department to guarantee he gets a constable position in 2013.

"I'm not worried about that. I've been voted in for at least the decade by the majority of the voters," Montgomery said.

"My intent is to eliminate the whole possibility of popularity among law enforcement. You don't need any law enforcement experience to be voted into the constable position (currently)," he said.

Montgomery said he recently proposed the idea after doing his "homework" - researching how to get more accountability for law enforcement in Killington with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Vermont State Police.

He said he concluded it wouldn't take more money in 2013, but it would require public support of appointed, as opposed to elected, constables, to get a police department started.

"In Killington, we use the constables as the main law enforcement in town, not the state police," he said. "That's how its been as long as I can remember. Other towns have moved to police departments and we are behind the times. The timing right now makes sense. There is no need to wait."

If the Select Board decides to put the measure on the ballot, voters will decide whether to start the ball rolling on the department structure.

Montgomery said this year, the town law enforcement operation will largely stay the same under the current budget plan.

In the future, a dispatcher could be added and a fully operational department in town could cost $200,000, Montgomery said.
Town Manager Seth Webb confirmed that if the article passes, there will be no new healthcare, benefits or other added cost to the 2013 budget.

Selectman Jim Haff, said in an interview that he supports the plan so cops in town have more information on who they pull over.
"Even if you are my worst enemy, I don't feel you should have to approach a car with a New York plate and not get the information on any criminal record in New York," he said. "We have been putting whoever out there and we have been lucky."

Haff also said he thinks the Board has an obligation to advertise the chief position to the public.

In November of last year, supporters gave Montgomery a round of applause during his budget presentation, a plan that included a $5,000 increase for hiring two new, part-time officers during the busy, winter season and the goals of more community policing, advocacy in schools and among seniors and more crime deterrent with Neighborhood Watch.

Killington constables and/or the State Police have responded to an average of 700 calls per year over the last three years. In comparison, communities of a similar size and nature responded to 300 incidents in 2009, Montgomery noted in his presentation to the Select Board. Additionally, Killington allocates much less funding to it's policing activities as a percentage of municipal expenditures, compared to similar towns in the state. Winhall, Waterbury, Dover, Ludlow, Stowe and Manchester allocated 13-26% of their municipal expenditures to law enforcement; Killington allocated 2.12%, according to the chart Montgomery presented. That includes the 21%($14,050) budget increase over 2012 to account for capital need for replacement cruisers, as voted on last year, and wage increases, which include two part-time certified officers.

"The Killington Police Dept. will be a part time law enforcement organization, responsible for 43 linear miles of roads, 3,043 tax accounts and up to 16,000 people on a busy weekend (winter/summer)" said Montgomery of his vision for the department moving forward. "We will be able to accomplish our purpose on a reasonable budget."

Cristina Kumka is a correspondent for The Mountain Times, she can be reached at cristina_kumka@yahoo.com