Milton Police Department (MPD) will be down two full-time officers and one part-time officer by May.
Officer Charles Brown will leave the force via an early retirement on March 27, after about 10 years of service, according to Chief Stephen Laroche. Another officer will temporarily depart for stateside National Guard deployment in May.
On March 1, part-time officer Jay Clark left the force to move out of state. He joined MPD about 25-years-ago as a full-time officer before moving to the Vermont Department of Liquor Control. Clark aided MPD with special detail, working events like the Independence Day parade.
“We’ll get through it,” Laroche said of the shrinking force. Miltonians will not see a change in the services MPD provides, he added.
Laroche said he’d like to fill the vacancy but needs to discuss the possibility with town manager Don Turner. The town is currently in a budget freeze, but Turner said he will examine the numbers with finance director Jessica Morris to determine when a position can be posted.
“For the time being I think we’re okay,” he said. “If we get to a third [vacancy] then that creates a scheduling issue.”
But hiring an officer takes time, Turner added. It took Milton about 16 months to fill its last vacancy, according to Laroche.
“[Across] Chittenden County, across Vermont and across the nation there’s a shortage for police officers,” Laroche said, adding Milton has historically struggled to fill law enforcement vacancies when unemployment is low.
The departures come at a time when MPD faces a growing call volume. The department responded to 1,000 more incidents in 2018 than it did two years prior. This January MPD responded to 896 incidents.
While Laroche said it’s too early to consider adding officers beyond the force’s 17 full-time members it’s a conversation he said will need to occur down the line.
“In the years to come we are certainly going to have to have a conversation about looking at the manpower issues,” he said. “We haven’t reached the tipping point yet.”
Among recent call drivers is an increasing demand for mental health assistance. In 2018 the department aided in 170 mental health related incidents. In 2017, it responded to 53 like incidents.
While Turner said he’s not in favor of growing government, he can see the value in adding a mental health professional to aid MPD and the town’s rescue and fire departments. He believes an employee with that skill set could lower call volume and ultimately save the town and its taxpayers’ money.
But, Turner added, he needs to see more information on the impact such a position would have. Additionally, he believes the town must educate its residents on the value added by hiring such an employee. Turner plans to report out more frequently on the status of town law enforcement and safety services.
“You can’t do this stuff if you don’t inform people,” he said. “It’s important to inform along the way so that that need is not a surprise. Then it’s up to the community, whether they feel there’s a value in that position.”
For now, MPD will fill its staffing gaps with careful scheduling and overtime, Laroche said. Officers are not permitted to work over 18 hours on a shift without –at minimum– 6-hours off duty.
“Hopefully this is it,” Laroche said of staff departures.