Vermont’s top cop to retire

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(Host) Vermont’s top cop will call it quits at the end of the year.

Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says he’ll retire after a 30-year career in law enforcement and state government.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Kerry Sleeper became the first state police officer to rise through the ranks and became commissioner of public safety.

His three decades of work began when he was a uniformed state trooper in the Middlesex barracks.

(Sleeper) "And I went from Middlesex to Colchester, to headquarters, back to Colchester, back to headquarters. I’ve kind of been around a little bit in 30 years."

(Dillon) Sleeper’s jobs have included stints as head of the special investigations unit, chief criminal investigator, and field force commander of the state police. In 2003, Governor Jim Douglas named Sleeper commissioner of public safety. The department oversees the state police and state emergency management.

Sleeper has also been the state’s homeland security advisor since 2001. He’s also co-chaired a National Governor’s Association panel on homeland security.

In that role, Sleeper gained national attention as an outspoken critic of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

When Chertoff told reporters this summer that he had a -quote "gut feeling" that the terrorism threat had increased, Sleeper said that the secretary’s remarks were not helpful. He complained about a lack of communication between federal officials and the states. Sleeper said he got more – and better information – from the FBI and the New York City police department than he did from Chertoff’s department.

Sleeper said he believes in speaking bluntly in the public interest.

(Sleeper) "I think you can only be really effective as a public servant when you say what’s on your mind in the best interests of the public. And there have been certain situations where I felt it was important to be candid. And I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked for a governor, and I work for a legislature, that appreciated that."

(Dillon) Sleeper is 51, and he says he’s considering a number of opportunities. He says he wants to stay in Vermont for now because he has a daughter in high school. He says he’s thought about running for elected office, but for now he wants to stay in the homeland security field.

(Sleeper) "I’m far from burnt out. I’m still very passionate about public safety and protecting Vermont, protecting the country, so I’m looking forward to exploring some other options."

(Dillon) Sleeper said that in his tenure as public safety commissioner, he’s tried to break down some of the bureaucratic barriers between various agencies.

(Sleeper) "I hope perhaps the longest lasting accomplishment is law enforcement and public safety all working together in a collaborative environment. That’s what I’ve tried to stress, that Vermont is much better off if we all work together regardless of our various disciplines and departments that we’re in."

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas praised Sleeper’s service. He described the commissioner as a trusted advisor and friend. And he said Sleeper played a key role for the administration in establishing anti-drug programs, and in working with the legislature on sex offender legislation.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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