State Police works to trim budget

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(Host) A violent summer and a tight state budget have put a strain on the Vermont State Police.

Officials have responded by reducing overtime, trimming expenses and cutting out-of-state travel.

The public may feel the impact. The state police director says troopers may not be able to respond in person to minor crimes.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas has said the state police will not have to lay off uniformed officers  to balance the budget.

But the Department of Public Safety – the parent agency for the state police – has been forced to let go two administrative employees. Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay told lawmakers recently that the budget pressures coincide with an unprecedented wave of violent crime.

(Tremblay) "I can tell you that this summer there have been nine homicides between July and September, which is an unheard-of amount. These are very labor intensive cases where we bring troopers from all over the state to help with those human resource needs, which has increased travel, increased gas consumption, increased overtime.”

(Dillon) Tremblay’s count does not include the murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, which happened in late June. He says that a year ago at this time, the state had experienced just two homicides. But he says even with the increased workload, his department is trying to control costs.

The focus is on reducing travel, eliminating non-essential training programs — and saving gas. That means smaller cars for some state police personnel.

(Tremblay) "We’re purchasing more fuel efficient program vehicles for command staff. We’re getting away from the large Crown Vic model in the command staff, going to a four cylinder vehicle that is saving us a lot of gas mileage. And we’ve limited a significant amount of out-of-state travel.”

(Dillon) The public may see a change in the way police respond to certain crimes. Tremblay and State Police Director James Baker say officers may no longer travel to the scene of non-violent property crimes, such as vandalism or thefts from vehicles. James Baker says he’s told station commanders to use their discretion to keep costs under control.

(Baker) "They have permission from me to say, `No,’ to citizens that we’re not going to respond to some of that stuff, if we believe there is no public safety issues involved, because we need to be able to manage our resources, our fuel. … So some of the citizens may see those kinds of responses where we’re going to tell them we’re going to take the information over the telephone or a trooper may call them from his cell phone to take the information.”

(Dillon) Baker said he’s not issuing a blanket ban against police responding to all reports of misdemeanor property crime. He says there will be times when a trooper is in the area and can quickly respond.

(Bakers) “But if we’ve got a trooper 25-30 miles away to go just take basically a report of a crime that we don’t have a high chance of solving, it isn’t a wise use of our time or our resources.”

(Dillon) One sign of the tight budget is that Baker is now driving a four-cylinder vehicle for better mileage. He says the department is also looking to buy some used cars, instead of new ones.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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