Bridgewater reviews policing
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | March 06,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Residents in Bridgewater say the Pledge of Allegiance before their Town Meeting on Tuesday morning.
BRIDGEWATER — The town has a new constable and is poised to review its relationship with the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department.
Law enforcement issues dominated town meeting this year, providing the only contested race and the only discussion on the municipal budget. Mike Sawyer was elected constable and all monetary items on the town and school warnings were approved.
Sitting Constable Edwin Earle declined nomination, despite cries of “he’s not allowed.”
Earle had served for 12 years but lacked law enforcement certification. He said new state restrictions on the authority of uncertified constables made the job difficult and that as a full-time corrections officer he lacked the time to take the necessary classes.
“It’s really hard when the townspeople call you for help and you have to say ‘I’m sorry, I’m not certified, you’ll have to call the state police,’” he said.
Sawyer, a captain in the fire department, was nominated alongside A.J. Stevens, who said he had served as a military policeman in the National Guard. Both said they were willing to take the certification training, though Sawyer questioned whether that was what the town really wanted.
“I believe the state police and the sheriff in town should be covering this,” he said. “I’m not sure you want somebody with a gun running around — you want to leave that to the professionals.”
Sawyer beat Stevens, 77-14. The assembly also passed an advisory resolution calling on the Select Board to reimburse the constable for certification training as well as lost wages due to the training.
One resident asked if it would be worth looking into the cost of establishing a police department in town, drawing groans from around the room.
A number of residents questioned the ongoing role of the Sheriff’s Department in the city, with one suggesting that erecting a toll booth on Route 4 would slow traffic just as well while collecting more revenue for the town. The town budgets $200,000 a year for the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, which is covered by anticipated ticket revenue.
“I didn’t know the crime rate was so high in Bridgewater,” resident Ray Kennedy said. “I’ve seen no data saying we need $200,000 worth of coverage of Route 4 or our back roads.”
Several residents said the sheriff’s deputies were “overzealous,” offering stories of tickets written for minor infractions. Kennedy suggested the arrangement had effectively created a quota system in which the department was obligated to write $200,000 worth of tickets every year.
A nonbinding request to have the Select Board study the situation with the Sheriff’s Department and report back at next year’s town meeting passed unanimously.
Voters approved the $708,673 town budget and $995,033 school budget while re-electing all town officers except Earle and School Board member Owen Astbury, who chose not to run again. Seth Shaw was the sole nominee for Astbury’s seat.