LONDONDERRY >> In response to recent crime that Rep. Oliver Olsen, I-Windham-Windsor-Bennington, has called "not representative of our community," a committee brought forward ideas to get a better handle on the issues.
"We tried to balance a lot of interests, several important interests that are on folks' minds," said Peter Pagnucco, ad hoc policing committee chairman, "Getting a prompt and effective response to what's been going on, the criminal activity that's been going on for some time now. To make sure that any response that we do have, any recommendations that we do have and any action the Selectboard takes with regard to any policing agency, there is some control and guidance to what happens in Londonderry. I think we balanced that and we've also balanced everyone's concern over doing something, but doing it cost effectively and being careful with Londonderry's resources."
Nine residents made up the ad hoc committee that submitted a report to the Selectboard on Friday, Oct. 30. Their recommendations, to enter into a contract with Vermont State Police and keep a permanent policing committee, were approved by the board at Monday night's meeting with all members of the ad hoc committee agreeing to stay on a permanent committee. The report is available on londonderryvt.org.
Board member Steve Prouty commended the committee for putting together the report on such short notice, noting its members' "professional attitude and response."
"I'm proud of what it became, no matter the outcome," he said.
Pagnucco said committee members met over nine times since August, interviewing several police agencies. Their charge involved researching how to police issues coming up in town, including arson, burglary and drug crime.
The committee recommended a weekly 25-hour patrolling by state police at an annual cost of $86,000. Part of the contract would include community policing activities. According to the report, Vermont State Police would be the best fit due to its officers already having some experience with the town. They also would be able to start right away.
The amount of hours was arrived at with a careful eye on needs and costs, Pagnucco said. After patrols were established, data would become available for future evaluation. The state won't charge the town for travel and court time.
The committee decided against the pursuit of using town constables for policing services or establishing a town police department. The committee also spoke with Windham County Sheriff's Department and Winhall Police Department before making its recommendations.
The board had not budgeted for the state police contract, noted Selectboard Chairman Jim Ameden. While some residents pushed the board to move before annual Town Meeting in March, board members worried about having low turnout at a special meeting. They plan to discuss how to approach voters for contract funding at future meetings. The committee suggested doing it no later than Town Meeting.
"The problem's not going away," said Pagnucco. "It seems to be getting worse. And if we don't decide to do this, I don't know what we're going to do but we better start thinking about what we're going to do."
Pagnucco said the permanent committee could address financing but it would "mostly monitor, manage and engage partners" in the community to make Londonderry safer. This idea came after a visit from the Rutland City-based Project Vision.
"(They) have a project where they now police in an integrated way, creating partners between the police, the community and social service agencies, which enables them to be more efficient with their policing, to be smarter with their policing, more compassionate with their policing and more intelligent with their policing, and allow the community to have some say," he said. "That's what we recommend in Londonderry."
When urged by a resident to step down from the board due to her connection to issues in town, Selectboard member Cathy Aragi responded calmly saying, "It's true, my daughter's an addict. She's addicted to heroin. That doesn't affect how I do my business."
Londonderry has seen its fair share of trouble lately. Cited in the report were "numerous burglaries" of homes in town and in nearby towns. Also burglarized were the Londonderry Transfer Station, South Londonderry Post Office and several businesses.
"In October 2015 alone, there were burglaries of the Twitchell Town Office Building, the Flood Brook Union School, two residences, and two schools and a highway garage in neighboring towns," the report stated.
More than 12 unsolved arsons happened in Londonderry and nearby towns over the last 10 years, according to the report. Most recently, a home was set on fire in May.
As far as drugs go, the committee noted seeing the sale, possession and distribution of controlled substances in known locations on an ongoing basis. An August 2015 traffic stop on Route 11 in Peru saw four people arrested after 480 bags of heroin, 50 grams of crack cocaine, 15 grams of powder cocaine and other narcotics were discovered. Two of the four passengers, charged with felony narcotics trafficking, were Londonderry residents. Also mentioned in the report was the October bust in Manchester, where a Guatemalan man "accepted possession" of 88 pounds of heroin, which had a street value of $5 million.