(Host) The Vermont State Police and other public safety agencies are feeling the effects of the war in Iraq. Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says eight out of the state’s 300 troopers were recently called up for service in the Middle East. Sleeper says the deployments cause some strain for his agency, but will not compromise public safety.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) Besides the eight troopers recently called up by the National Guard, Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says as many as 25 could be activated some time in the future.
The deployments last 18 months and the state has to keep the jobs open for the police officers when they return. Sleeper says the state police will find ways to deal with the vacancies.
(Sleeper) “It’s a combination of shifting resources and covering with the resources we have, prioritizing for the people we don’t have. There may be some occurrence of overtime in order to compensate.”
(Dillon) The State Police are authorized to have 325 troopers, but they are down by about 25 on the force. The numbers should turn around next year when a new class graduates from the state police academy. Sleeper expects 25 to 30 recruits to enroll in the police academy in January.
(Sleeper) “And that’s probably the largest class of troopers we’ve had in many, many years. So while we’re being challenged in certain areas we’re also making significant gains as a result of the support of the governor and the Legislature.”
(Dillon) Sleeper says even without the new troopers, his force has the ability to respond in emergencies. But he says all public safety agencies, from the state Corrections Department to local sheriff’s offices, are feeling the effects of the recent National Guard deployments.
Guard officials say that after the next round of deployments, about 50 percent of the state’s army National Guard force will be in active service. A group opposed to the war in Iraq wants the Legislature and a special state commission to look into whether the military deployments have harmed the Guard’s ability to respond to domestic emergencies.
The question is important because under federal law, a governor can veto a troop deployment if he or she believes the mobilization compromises the Guard’s mission at home. Governor Jim Douglas believes the Guard does have enough people left in Vermont.
(Douglas) “We haven’t deployed anywhere near as high a percentage of our Guard as other states have. We’ve got the State Guard, we’ve got other first responder and public safety agencies. It’s certainly my view and General Rainville’s view and the commissioner’s view that we have the resources necessary to respond to a natural or other emergency that may occur.”
(Dillon) The next round of National Guard deployments is expected to take place in January.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.