Chester Selectboard looks to improve policing policies with adapted complaint form

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard agreed to move forward in adapting a citizen complaint form for the Police Department, as well as a brochure that outlines step-by-step guidance on the complaint procedure, in an effort to address the current lack of a complaint process in town, during the Nov. 4 meeting.

Town Manager Julie Hance presented a draft complaint form and procedural brochure currently being used by the Burlington Police Department. Both documents will be updated to incorporate Chester specifics and be reviewed by the town attorney.

With this new complaint form, the concerns will initially be handled in-house but all investigations will be sent to the state level for scrutiny. If the complaint should happen to be about the police chief, the complaint would immediately be sent to police academy level through Vermont Training Counsel. Policing policy changes are about to resume in the state legislature in January, including use of force policies, which will be adopted statewide.

Once revised and approved, the complaint form and the process document will be up on the town website.

Board member Jeff Holden expressed his concern for the need to have some way to protect officers when false accusations are leveled against them. Hance agreed to have the town attorney review to incorporate additional details about that concern if deemed appropriate.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas said that the town wants “a process that is fair to everyone involved.”

Chester resident Leslie Thorson spoke from the floor asking that the Police Department provide detailed procedures of how they handle certain situations such as traffic stops or serving a subpoena. She also criticized the complaint document for not being broad enough to term a complaint as “wrongful, unprofessional behavior” versus fitting into a specific policy violation. “We need to have spelled out rules that the Police Department needs to be accountable for,” she said.

Jonynas defended the town’s actions to date, saying, “We’re trying to take a step in the right direction. We’re trying to do the right thing.” He did assure Thorson that the board would try to incorporate her comments and concerns as they move forward.

The Public Safety Building construction is continuing on schedule with concrete having been poured and the steel frame scheduled to start next week.

Due to cold nights recently, there has been a delay in speed strips on Andover Road to complete the speed survey. Repairs are being made to the town’s portable radar sign to place on the road and complete the data collection.

Negotiations started between Attorney Jim Goss and the state’s Act 250 attorneys concerning the appeal to proceed with Chester’s gravel pit. There should be an update at the next meeting.

The second meeting for the general budget review continued as the board went over departments covered by the Division of Public Safety, including Fire, Police, Ambulance, and Public Communications.

This first round budget was prepared from a zero base by all department heads, and not based on last year’s budget, a strategy that was decided earlier this year.

There was a general overview of the departments with the expectation that in December the full budget will be presented back to the board with comparisons to last year’s budget numbers. At that time, changes will begin. Of particular note, a $14,766 amount for dispatching will need to be added to the budget, since the Vermont State Police will start charging towns for dispatching services beginning in 2021. Costs in subsequent years will double again every year after in an effort to eliminate dispatch as a provided service.

Cloud and Hance will be looking at Hartford, who currently provides dispatch services for town fire departments, as a possible solution. Regardless, a new regional dispatching service provider will need to be found.

The board approved Hance’s request to purchase acoustic panels to be put into the second floor of the Town Hall, to be installed when Atomic Sound puts in the portable sound system. The cost of $12,000 will come out of the revitalization budget.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 18.

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