The City of Bennington continues to move forward in the recruitment and hiring of a new police chief. The search became more urgent this month with the resignation of Sergeant Tim Pittman, who was serving as chief in an interim capacity.
As I wrote in my April 12 constituent letter, the Mayor and the Council are in agreement on the policing goals for Bennington: Providing high-quality, round-the-clock coverage with our own local force. We aim to employ a chief and one to two full-time officers, along with part-time officers as necessary.
These goals remain. In the past week, I have heard my fellow council members, the mayor, and many constituents reiterate support for these goals. (The alternative would be disbanding the force and relying entirely on the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. To my knowledge, nobody supports this.)
We also agree that the search for a new chief has dragged on longer than hoped. In April, the Council approved an increase in the top end of the salary range, to $85,000, aiming to draw a larger pool of qualified candidates. We will begin a new round of screening and interviewing in June with the applicants who responded to this new salary range.
With no police chief, Bennington has relied more heavily than usual on the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and several part-time and reserve officers. We owe them our gratitude for stepping up during this time of transition. (You will likely see many of these officers during Bennington Daze; make sure to tell them thanks!)
Now, with the resignation of Sergeant Pittman, the Bennington Police Department is without any full-time, supervisory officers. Over the past week, I and my fellow council members, along with the mayor, have discussed our options for continuing to guarantee safety and responsiveness during this transition.
We have ultimately settled on negotiating a temporary agreement with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to patrol the city. The Office already responds to calls for service whenever a city police officer is not available, and an agreement will allow for regular patrols.
This temporary agreement naturally raises fears that it will become permanent. Those fears are understandable, but I do not share them. It is our decision, as a city, to keep and even grow our police force. So that's what we'll do.
I voiced support for pursuing this temporary agreement with the Sheriff's Office. I think it's the safest, surest way to go in these unusual circumstances.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about this issue or any other, please call or e-mail me.
Full meeting minutes and agendas are posted here.