Increasing caseload spurs growth plans
By Luke Baynes
The Williston Community Justice Board’s caseload has increased 124 percent over last fiscal year, according to its director, Steve LaTulippe, who wants the board to increase its membership by 25 percent.
“At the last board meeting held in early February, I brought up the fact that we need to expand the number of board members from 16 to 20,” LaTulippe said during a Feb. 27 presentation to the Williston Selectboard, which has the final authority to appoint members to the CJB after an interview process that includes LaTulippe and the chief of police.
LaTulippe said that by increasing CJB membership to 20 – the maximum number of members allowed under its charter – it would help alleviate a caseload that has expanded due to an increasing number of referrals from both Williston police officers and the state’s attorney’s office.
In the case of direct referrals from police officers, LaTulippe told the Observer that officers have the discretion to refer people to the CJB rather than issue citations for certain misdemeanor offenses, thereby allowing offenders to avoid a criminal record if they complete the board’s process of reparation and community service.
“Our police officers make a judgment in the field whether they are going to issue a citation for the offense for the person to appear in court, or they can decide to send that particular case to the Williston Community Justice Board,” LaTulippe said.
LaTulippe, who reports to Acting Police Chief Doug Hoyt, said the board has an excellent working relationship with the police department.
“I give a great deal of credit to the Williston police officers,” LaTulippe said. “I know that we’re having our issues in the department, but one of the areas that they’re so successful at is they work really well in conjunction with our board and they work hard at policing with their heart. Policing with heart is often just as important as knowing what the law is.”
Detective Michael Lavoie reciprocated his appreciation of the CJB and its relationship with the police department.
“It works very well,” Lavoie said of the direct referral process, “and we all work well with it.”
According to data provided by LaTulippe, possession of marijuana saw the biggest annual increase among categories of offenses referred to the CJB. In fiscal year 2012 there were 21 cases, as opposed to just five in fiscal year 2011.
Retail theft had the most dramatic reduction in referrals year-over-year, dropping from 22 to 14, although LaTulippe noted that the decrease is reflective of Wal-Mart changing its corporate policy and handling more cases of theft internally.
CJB member Harriet King, an attorney who specializes in family law, said her prior experience as a prosecutor has given her insight into the value of having a town program that allows people to avoid the criminal justice system.
“We have a lot of teenagers that come through, and I think that they’re a very vulnerable group of people,” said King. “I don’t think they should get slammed right into the court system, because of their age. They certainly could be treated as adults, depending on what they did, and I think it’s really worth having them go through this process.”
Applications for the Community Justice Board and other volunteer committees are available at the Town Manager’s Office or on the town’s website (http://town.williston.vt.us) under the “Volunteer Openings” link.