Town mulls police mutual aid pact

First-ever agreement would cover county

By Michelle Edelbaum
Observer staff

The town of Williston is considering whether to approve the first-ever formal mutual aid agreement governing Chittenden County law enforcement agencies.

The agreement covers 10 municipal police departments. It also includes the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department, University of Vermont police and the Vermont State Police. The agreement allows police to give and receive mutual aid with agencies outside of Chittenden County, including federal agencies.

The agreement puts in writing informal assistance arrangements that area police departments have had for years, said Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden. It also outlines officers’ responsibilities in emergency and non-emergency situations.

Lt. Alan Buck, station commander at the Vermont State Police barracks in Williston, said the agreement would have been helpful during previous large-scale crises. The idea for the pact came from a similar agreement among fire departments, Buck said.

“9/11 and things that have happened since then were part of the impetus to get it in writing,” said Lt. Alan Buck, station commander at the Vermont State Police barracks in Williston.

Voters authorized the Williston Fire Department to enter into a mutual aid agreement with other fire departments at town meeting in 2002, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. Recent changes in state law made it possible for the town to enter into mutual aid pacts by vote of the Selectboard rather than a vote by citizens at town meeting, McGuire said.

The Williston Selectboard and governing boards in other towns are mulling the proposal. At the Sept. 12 Williston Selectboard meeting, McGuire suggested amendments to the proposed agreement, including an expiration or renewal date, and a process for yearly reporting that would indicate how much the aid is being used and the distribution of aid among the towns. The town of Milton requested language addressing a way to exit the agreement. McGuire is working on communicating suggested changes with other towns.

Under the current informal arrangement, if Williston police need help a dispatcher calls other police departments to request assistance. Williston police when it has officers to spare and it won’t impact the community, Glidden said. McGuire pointed out that in a major event, police don’t want to waste time calling people to respond.

The proposed protocol dictates which police departments would respond to another department’s call for assistance. Vermont State Police and the Department of Motor Vehicles would be the first two departments to respond to a call for assistance from Williston. A more serious event would also bring Essex and South Burlington police. If more assistance is needed, officers from Richmond, Shelburne, Hinesburg, Colchester, Burlington, UVM, Winooski and Milton would also respond.

Buck said that the agreement, which the Chittenden County law enforcement officials have discussed for eight years, addresses response in emergency situations rather than the day-to-day aid police departments will continue to provide to each other. Glidden said that the agreement doesn’t include or dictate any practice that the police departments don’t already have in place. Instead, it establishes procedure so things can go more smoothly when an emergency arises.

The agreement states that the department responding to another town’s request for aid will absorb the cost associated with the response. That also continues an existing practice.

“One hand washes the other,” Glidden said.

Buck said that money becomes part of the equation when departments look at how to distribute their resources — within a town or somewhere else. McGuire said that cost is not an issue for Williston, as it would simply continue the existing agreement of each town paying for its own police force’s response to other towns’ calls.

The pact would also take the politics out of mutual aid, Buck said, since town managers can tell the police departments not to respond to calls outside of their jurisdiction. McGuire said he is not aware of this authority and hasn’t used it.

McGuire said it is beneficial for police to give and receive aid from other departments.

“I don’t think a formal written agreement is a bad thing as long as there is a time and a way to make amendments. It’s a good thing. It’s good to make things formal before something big and bad happens,” said McGuire.