HPD Shrinks FY22 Budget, Talks Past, Present, and Future

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – In light of the department no longer serving Greensboro in the future, Hardwick Police Department (HPD) Chief Aaron Cochran, Town Manager Shaun Fielder, Business Manager Casey Rowell, and Select Board Chair Eric Remick have put together a revised FY2022 HPD budget. 

The new proposal was announced at the May 20 select board meeting and takes the department’s shortfall from roughly $245,000 to about $75,000. Losing the Greensboro policing contract also raised questions about what the department should do in future years, as well led to a reflection on where it all began back in 1979-1980. HPD has been Greensboro’s police force since it became a full police force of its own in 1980.

The proposed new budget would be $748,271.90 for operating expenses, a $151,293 drop. One item removed from the budget is the COPS Grant funding of $18,638.48 which Fielder said was aimed at retention and after review “is not going to be a fit.” He said that early indications are that some of the estimated $280,000 American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds might be able to backfill some of the salaries paid during the state of emergency and “bolster our budget.”

He said, “What the ask is at this phase is we are trying to find out what we are going to do so we can invest in our human capital, our officers, so we can maintain our operations in a 24-7 environment with the thought process that we’ve got evaluate moving forward what does this look like? Are we going to be a regional police force?”

Board member Shari Cornish said that instead of the board making that decision it might be good to have some sort of community forum once things open up after July 4. “I think the reality of our situation is we’re budgeting for a Hardwick-only police department [at this point].”

Board member Elizabeth Dow advocated for what she called the “conservative” approach: “rather than assuming we’re going to get something else [we should] keep our eyes open but not assume that any Coke bottle is going to fall out of the sky for us.”

The question of policing for Barton/Orleans has come up multiple times at the request of a member of that town’s select board. Barton is not an adjacent town, though, which is a logistical challenge, Chief Cochran noted, and a bigger consideration is that part-time officers being deployed to the Barton area would have statutory limits on their authority. Recently, that area has seen multiple major crime incidents, including a bank robbery.

Remick said, “In my opinion, the only way it makes sense is if Aaron [Cochran] assigns a completely additional part-time officer to do discrete work and there’s a reasonable profit from it, but it’s hard to see how it works for [Barton].” Chief Cochran wanted a clarification from the board as to whether he should continue investigating options with Barton, and the board decided that it was not something to continue investigating at this time. The only way the board saw a regional force working was with adjacent towns, and Wolcott is the only one to have initiated any contact.

Vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane asked if the possibility had been considered of running the 24-7 coverage only partly in-house and supplementing it with the sheriff’s department. Chief Cochran said that the logistics of creating that arrangement would probably not eliminate the shortfall but instead make it worse. He had already alluded to the events of Halloween 1979, when the state police had to come in to stop a riot in Hardwick. Subsequent to those events and others, then-Town Manager Ernie Laird “warned that Hardwick is getting a reputation as an ‘open town’ now that is covered on a part-time basis by the Vermont State Police and Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department.”

Chief Cochran said, “I certainly don’t want to see history repeat itself. I think it’s important to reflect on where Hardwick was [in the 1970s and 1980s], why they decided to change, to reflect on the fact that there are still larger crimes in the 1970s that still plague us today, unsolved crimes.”

On July 15, 1977, 39-year-old Joan Rogers was murdered, according to the Vermont State Police, having been “found deceased, lying in a field in Hardwick, VT” and a day later Bernard Daniel Ewen was robbed and murdered in his apartment on the second floor of the Bemis Block. Forty-four years later, both homicides remain unsolved. Chief Cochran said, “There’s certainly a lot to consider and reflect on, where we were, where we are now, and what we’ve come from.”