Police Chief Tim ‘Bomber’ Bombadier has earned a long leave of absence from a policing career spanning decades. I do wish he would stick around a bit to participate in the worthy discussion of “So what do you want from your PD?” Since it may well be that minds are changing, and open to new, cooperative efforts which — unlike “defund the police” — actually have operational and community resource benefits.
For today I want to highlight one aspect of his take on, and cooperation in putting content into “reform.” Whether a regional, local or state-wide approach, he was with the calls for adding complementary resource capabilities to law enforcement personnel. Case in point: His embrace of a partnership with (then police chief Tony Facos) Montpelier PD to share a mental health professional available to support and assist on calls that, as we know, could have tragic consequences. Of course, this cooperation and sharing required the willing support of Washington County Mental Health Services, and the two communities’ leadership councils. Each partner delivered and continues to do so today. These are local dollars added to the departments out of municipal property taxes.
Expanding our perspective a bit from Bomber’s direction for the Barre PD readers of this paper cannot help but notice that the Vermont State Police are going to do the same. A recent story chronicled the decision (and budgeting) by VSP Commissioner Scherling to place a mental/social worker professional at each barracks. This will include the (soon to be) Berlin facility. What a difference a few years make.
I digress: In 2018 Barre City’s newly elected first year representative had drafted a bill to make available 50 percent funding for a mental health professional to aid all communities with full-time departments. This would be on an as-elected, voluntary basis. Local property tax funds would have to make up the difference. That proposal was assigned to the Government Operations Committee. Chiefs Bombardier and Facos, as well as WCMHS Executive Director Mary Moulton testified in strong support. I thought this was a slam dunk, who could not love it? Then a local legislator and committee member asked: “Why is this a role or issue for the state to fund?” That rather chilled the discussion, and the bill died on a bulletin board. As I said: What a difference a few years make.
Turning now to another aspect of the Bomber’s career interests: fairness. He and I are very grateful to the Montpelier and Barre governments and WCMH to have designated funds for this capacity-building exercise. Having said that, now I take responsibility for the following: How is it fair that communities with full-time departments pay all the freight for law enforcement?
Whether we went regional or not, we are still talking about strictly local dollars.
Most of the 251 jurisdictions rely on the VSP for primary law enforcement coverage. (Each may additionally “purchase” enforcement capabilities from county sheriff departments). Those with full-time departments like most in Central Vermont have access to VSP as an on-call, as-needed basis — apart from specialized investigative units. The VSP is funded principally out of the General Fund revenues raised chiefly through the income tax. Thus, we with full-time departments pay twice, but are covered once: income taxes for the VSP; and local taxes to our respective police departments. Fair? Not really.
Back to Bomber and reform: He is justifiably disheartened by the careless use of “defund the police.” As he pointed out, the repetition of this mantra has had a negative effect on morale, and recruitment, no question. I believe Councilor Teddy Waszazak summarized it’s pointlessness: “‘Defunding the police’ is not a policy proposal, I think it is a political slogan.” As the councilor suggested, debate is what should be happening, not slogan-eering.
The chief has much to be proud of during his tour in Barre. May he sleep well; and thanks for his leadership style.
Rep. Peter Anthony lives in Barre City.