As VPR has reported, a handful of towns in Vermont are considering creating a joint police force to cut costs. In Franklin County, a similar arrangement has led to a legal challenge that’s headed to the state’s highest court. VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports.
(Carapezza) The town of St. Albans doesn’t have its own police department. For decades it has contracted with the Franklin County Sheriff for the service.
But last month, the town decided to replace the sheriff with police patrols from the city of St. Albans.
The town wanted 24-hour coverage, and Franklin County Sheriff Bob Norris was asking for much more money than the City was.
Now Norris is suing the City. His office has asked state courts for an injunction. Norris says the bidding process was so unfair – so uneven – that it killed any competition, and created a sort of "monopoly."
(Norris) "The way that this process took place, I cannot compete with a larger police department who has many more resources."
(Carapezza) Norris says those resources include the city’s ability to fill the extended shifts with existing staff.
But supporters say the plan is a natural fit. The town surrounds the city like a doughnut. And they say sharing a police department is the most cost-effective option at a time of budget cuts.
Dominick Cloud is the city manager. He says there’s been a double digit drop in the city’s crime rate this year compared to last.
(Cloud) "The City is providing such a high level of police services already – it was a no-brainer for us to include the town in our service area and reduce cost both for city taxpayers and town taxpayers."
(Carapezza) And city and town officials say that’s exactly what they’ve done.
They’ve combined the whole town and city. Then they divided that area up into four districts – or patrol territories. To cover them, the City says it only had to add three additional officers.
City Manager Cloud estimates the new deal will save them more than a million dollars over three years.
(Cloud) "In times like these, where we’re asking our government to really think outside of the box, when two neighbors finally create a way to work together that should be the end of the discussion."
(Carapezza) But it’s not the end of the discussion.
Again, here’s Sheriff Bob Norris.
(Norris) "Losing this particular contract is devastating to this department because it’s this township that we grew with over the past 12 years under my administration. This is the particular township that allowed us to go 24 by 7 and have daytime patrols."
(Carapezza) A Franklin County judge has already denied the sheriff’s lawsuit, saying it was without merit.
Now Norris is appealing that decision to Vermont’s Supreme Court.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.