BARRE — Chief Tim Bombardier told city councilors this week that in the “late 1970s” the local police force was as big as is contemplated in the budget that will be on the ballot in March.
“We had 20 (officers) at one point,” he said. “We had more than we have now.”
Not according to a cursory review of the city’s annual reports for the time period Bombardier identified in response to a question from Councilor Michael Boutin.
Boutin asked the question in an apparent attempt to make a connection between the more robust police force that he and three other members of the council successfully fought for during budget deliberations and the good “old days” in Barre.
The only problem is that while Bombardier supplied the answer Boutin was looking for, there isn’t much evidence to suggest he was right.
Not in 1975, or 1976, or 1977, or 1978, or 1979, or 1980 or 1981 …
Copies of the annual reports for those years list the names and ranks of those on the Police Department’s roster. Even if you added in a fluctuating number of “clerk-dispatchers,” there were never 20 of them — unless you count the cadre of crossing guards needed before the city abandoned its network of neighborhood schools.
Though the structure of the department changed on an almost annual basis in those years, its size was fairly constant. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1975, there were 15 officers — a figure that included Chief Floyd Chandler.
The department went from 15 to 16 members three years later when Paul Dranbauer took over as chief. It slipped to 14 during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1979, then bumped back up to 16 in 1980.
By that time now-Deputy Chief Andrew Marceau was on the roster. When contacted for clarification Wednesday, Bombardier said Marceau was the source of the anecdotal information he relayed to the council moments after one of its members launched a spirited defense of the plan to hire two more police officers in Barre.
Bristling over what he said was some blowback from the council’s decision, Councilor Charlie Dindo described a city that desperately needs a little more law enforcement.
“Some people have told me I have overreacted,” he said, referring to his role in the council’s 4-3 vote to override the recommendation of its budget committee and include funding for two new officers in the proposed budget.
“When you see a new ... SUV with tinted glass from Massachusetts drive up in your neighborhood, the tinted windows go down and there’s a driver and a passenger with a mask on and there are drugs and guns involved, I’m not overreacting,” Dindo said, suggesting the problem extends well beyond his neighborhood.
“It’s happening all over Barre,” he said, ticking down a lengthy list of streets and occasionally sprinkling in references to recent incidents.
“I’m not overreacting. There’s a problem,” he said.
According to Dindo, adding two officers to the city’s 18-member force would bring it closer to what he described as the average — 21 — for departments in Vermont communities that, like Barre, have populations in excess of 9,000.
Only 11 communities fit that description, and most, like Burlington, Essex, Rutland, Colchester, South Burlington and Bennington, are significantly larger than Barre, which has a population of just under 9,300.
Bombardier, who did not request any additional officers this year but welcomed the council’s decision to add them, said Wednesday that based on the national average of 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents, the proposed staffing increase was more than justified.
Dindo said Tuesday that was particularly true given what city officials have long argued is a disproportionate number of people under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections who live in Barre.
That figure stands at a little over 300, according to Dindo, who argued it has created a strain on the Police Department.
“We are way understaffed,” he said.
In other business Tuesday, the council agreed to require the owner of a South Main Street bar to come before the council.
South Side Tavern recently waived its right to a hearing and agreed to pay a $1,500 fine for a series of violations allegedly detected by a state liquor inspector last year.
That development prompted Councilor Paul Poirier to suggest a meeting with the owner.
Poirier said he has heard allegations of questionable behavior and drug activity involving the bar from some of its past patrons as well as members of the police.
“From what I’ve heard I think it’s an unsafe situation,” he said.
Bombardier said police have responded to the bar 12 times in the past year and he hadn’t yet signed off on a request to renew the liquor license for the establishment.
Councilors agreed to ask the applicant to attend their Feb. 19 meeting to discuss renewal of the liquor license.
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