In July 2020, Hinesburg decided it needed six police officers. Now the town wonders if it can get by with five.

At that time, the selectboard’s vote to hire a sixth officer was contentious with the town worrying about the economic impacts of the pandemic and with the country embroiled in calls to defund police departments.

A portion of a sixth officer’s salary is paid through a federal COPS grant — Community Oriented Policing Services — up to $125,000 over three years.

Officer Brett Lindemuth is leaving the Hinesburg Police Department at the beginning of January, so no one would lose a job. The question is whether Hinesburg will refill it.

At a meeting Nov. 17, Odit said before he spent time inquiring about whether the town can get out of paying for the sixth officer when Lindemuth leaves and before he included funding for the position in the proposed 2022 budget, he thought he’d first check in with the board.

Chair Merrily Lovell said she initially voted in favor of a sixth officer because police chief Anthony Cambridge said officers sometimes made calls alone, especially at night.

In last year’s town meeting, Lovell said, 67 percent of voters approved the police department budget. To her this indicates a majority voters support having six officers.

But, she added, the board has a responsibility to do what’s fiscally prudent for Hinesburg.

Although every police department surrounding the town of Hinesburg — and many across the state — are understaffed, Cambridge said he was confident he could hire a sixth officer without much trouble. The last time he had a position to fill it took a week.

He said officers want to work in Hinesburg, and like the way the department operates.

Because of staffing shortages at neighboring departments, the chances that Hinesburg could stay with a five-person department and count on backup from its neighbors is slim, Cambridge said.

The odds of Hinesburg getting a contract with the Vermont State Police for backup are not good, Cambridge said, and if the town did make such a deal the state police would just be responding to calls “if somebody’s hurt or dying.” 

“This summer we got hit really hard. We were out almost every night,” he said. Although the number of calls has returned to a “normal amount,” he expects there will be a time when department nighttime calls go back up.

Board member Mike Loner and Lovell asked if any progress had been made in joining with other departments in creating a regional system of police coverage.

Although Cambridge said he supports regional policing, he doesn’t want to take on the problems that other departments are having retaining officers and finding staff.

A regional policing effort, Cambridge said, should be based on “the Hinesburg model. We are a full-service community police department that treats our residents right and treats our officers right.” 

He said he also worries about extra calls the department might have to make now that Champlain Valley Union High School has no school resource officer.

Board member Phil Pouech said that shouldn’t be too much impact on the Hinesburg Police Department, since there aren’t that many calls from the schools any way.

Pouech and the other board members said it would be good if Cambridge could provide data on the number and types of calls the department responds to; for example, how often officers are called to the high school.

Hinesburg resident and former selectboard member Andrea Morgante said it appeared the board was wrestling with two issues — what level of police service do town residents expect and officer safety.

The board decided to talk to other towns, in particular Charlotte, to see how well it is served by its state police contract.

Odit plans to look into COPS grant restrictions as it pertains to funding for a sixth officer.

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