Monday January 14, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Local authorities are requesting a new option for police to replace two aging Tahoes.

The different model vehicles are among a number of changes proposed for the Bennington Police Department as the town continues drafting its next budget. Speaking to Select Board members at a Saturday work session, Police Chief Paul Doucette said his department was looking to fill two extended vacancies with one officer already certified and a second interested in starting out at the academy.

With two police vehicles involved in accidents in 2012 (neither at fault), the department bought one replacement: The Ford Police Interceptor Utility. While that vehicle only has 8,000 miles and the "jury’s still out," Doucette said officers had good things to say about the new Ford to date. The proposed fiscal year 2014 spending plan includes the purchase of two Interceptor sport utility vehicles to replace two 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs. Based on the pedestrian Ford Explorer, the Interceptors come about $5,000 less per vehicle compared to the Tahoe, and would be all-wheel drive with the base 3.7-liter V6 offering slightly improved fuel economy. Their utility was said to be similar to the Tahoes. (Ford is also producing a police-spec Interceptor sedan based on the Taurus.)

With several available options, Doucette said the trend was toward the Interceptor. An extended service plan on the new vehicles, for routine oil changes and tire rotation, is being offered at-cost by an area dealer and does show savings, he continued. "It is very important we replace those two Chevy Tahoes," he said. Given mileage and maintenance, "these vehicles definitely need to be replaced."

The police chief said the plan was to sell one Tahoe and keep the other, minus the police decals, for use by an animal control officer. This year, animal control is planned to be fully incorporated under the police department’s jurisdiction, which Doucette said would result in more consistent enforcement of related ordinances. A second animal control officer was hired this month.

"If we’re more visible with our animal control, we’ll have less animal control complaints," Doucette told board members. Approximately $6,000 added to a police line item is attributable to expected kennel fees.

In the draft budget, police department overtime rises 5.5 percent year-to-year -- to $195,590 -- although that adjustment is mostly because of the reality of increasing calls. "Every year our calls go up," said Doucette. Queried whether adding staff would reduce overtime, he said that wasn’t "necessarily the case."

"There’s far more work being done." About a third of the overtime results from court appearances, continuing investigations, and report-related work that wouldn’t be offset by additional hires.

In the effort to combat drug-related crime in Bennington, members of the Select Board again eyed a specific line item dedicated to that purpose. "These are not big numbers, these are big (problems)" said board member Greg Van Houten, linking substance abuse to petty break-ins and other crime. Doucette said he would be meeting with other police chiefs from around the state to discuss the issue, and board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr. requested a comprehensive brief for town officials on the status of drug-related investigations and enforcement.

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