A police chief and a constable Tuesday told senators they oppose a bill that would reform the state's system of part-time police officers.
In Vermont, departments can hire part-time police officers who have significantly less training than full-time officers and give them full law-enforcement powers, including the authority to carry and use firearms on the job.
A bill before the Senate Government Operations Committee, H.765, proposed to eliminate part-time certification. House lawmakers changed the bill to create a three-tiered structure for officers with different types of training and duties.
The bill creates three certification levels. Level 3 would be full-time officers who have completed a 16-week live-in police academy; Level 2 officers would be allowed to respond to calls for crimes in progress; Level 1 officers would only be allowed to perform security, transport, vehicle escorts and traffic control.
Now, in Vermont, part-time officers must attend a 58-hour academy, then complete 50 hours of additional training and 60 hours of field training. They must also complete 30 hours of training each year and can't work more than 32 hours per week.
The Vermont State Police, the Vermont Sheriffs' Association and other law enforcement agencies support the bill, but some local chiefs say it is unnecessary and would be a financial burden on their small departments.
"Our officers are extremely busy," Manchester Police Chief Michael Hall said. "Some of the best police officers that you have in this state are part-time police officers, just like your volunteer firemen."
Silas Loomis, president of the Vermont Constables Association, said the bill would "burden monetarily on these small towns" and also hurt part-time officers who have other jobs.
"It's the backbone of law enforcement," he said.
Hinesburg Police Chief Frank Koss also testified against the bill. Hinesburg has five full-time officers and four part-timers who work a total of 40 hours, Koss said. It would cost at least another $50,000 in benefits to hire a sixth full-time officer, he said.