Thetford Board: Police Coverage Will Continue as Before

Sunday, October 19, 2014
Thetford — The town’s police force will use a borrowed vehicle and continue to provide residents with the same level of police coverage that was in effect before Friday’s suspicious fire, which destroyed the department’s entire fleet of three cruisers, the Selectboard said Saturday.

The Selectboard told residents that the search for replacement cruisers will begin this week, and that insurance deductible the town will have to pay after the fire totals $500. During the short special meeting at Town Hall, the Selectboard also discussed proposed changes to the shift schedule for the town’s police officers, a topic that was requested to be addressed at a previous regular meeting.

The cause of Friday’s fire, which was reported shortly after 2:30 a.m., has not yet been determined, officials said Friday, but the investigation includes talking with a “couple of witnesses,” as well as others who appear to be popping up on social media. At yesterday’s meeting, Selectboard Chairman Stuart Rogers said no additional information about the investigation was available.

The blaze is reminiscent of one that destroyed the Norwich Police Department’s three-car fleet on Nov. 22, 2012. Following a weeklong investigation, that fire was categorized as unsuspicious, likely the result of a mechanical or electrical malfunction. But on Friday, a state fire investigator, who was not involved in the Norwich case, said he was “absolutely” interested in reviewing it.

The damage to the cruisers, a 2009 Chevy Impala and 2013 and 2014 Ford Police Interceptors, is estimated at $100,000. The Selectboard said the process of replacing the cars could take up to three months. In the meantime, using a cruiser provided by the Norwich Police Department, the Thetford police will be able to provide the same coverage that was in place before the fire, Selectboard member Donn Downey said.

“As far as public safety goes, there will be no change in services,” he said. “The state police technically remain our primary service providers.”

The Norwich department volunteered to loan the vehicle, Selectboard member Mike Pomeroy said after the meeting. “That was above and beyond.”

The Selectboard will also check with other agencies to see if a second car is available for loan.

Rogers thanked the Thetford Fire Department for its quick response to Friday’s fire, and for being able to “knock down the flames and control the fire” in the cars, which were parked next to Town Hall. Had the fire reached the vehicles’ gas tanks, it could have spread to the roof of the historic building, he said. “We would not be sitting in this room today.”

A woman attending the meeting asked if plans exist to park the new cars somewhere else.

“I think that makes a tremendous amount of sense,” Downey said.

State police are asking anyone with information about the fire to call the arson tip line at 1-800-32-ARSON. There is a reward of up to $5,000 for information resulting in an arrest.

About a dozen people attended Saturday’s half-hour long meeting, including former police chief Jim Lanctot and both of the town’s two full-time police officers, Sgt. Bridget Tweedie and Stuart Rogers, the Selectboard chairman’s son.

The town is in the process of hiring a new police chief, following Lanctot’s resignation in May. Richard A. King, a longtime sergeant with the Ludlow, Vt., police, will start on Nov. 2, pending a standard background check, the results of which the Selectboard expects to receive Monday. Doug Robinson, the Norwich police chief, has been serving as Thetford’s interim chief since June. He will stay on for an extra week to help with the transition.

In a telephone interview yesterday, King, a Springfield, Vt., resident, said he was “surprised, obviously” on Friday when he heard about the fire. But, he added, “I am familiar with the state police, and I have every confidence that they are going to do their job.”

Asked if the incident would prove a management or morale challenge in his new position, he said probably both. “But it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. It’s not going to affect how we do our jobs.”

He noted Norwich’s offer to provide a cruiser and the possibility of borrowing equipment from other departments. “We should be OK until we can get the new stuff on board. It shouldn’t affect our capability of responding.”

Part of yesterday’s meeting centered on a new shift schedule Robinson proposed for the Thetford officers. The schedule changes, which flip-flopped the officers’ shifts, have been put on hold.

The officers’ contract allows for schedule changes, and mentions a bidding process for shifts, but the language is not clear, Downey said, and the officers and Robinson interpreted the contract differently.

The bidding didn’t really happen, Downey said. Instead, it was more of a “casual conversation.”

King said he has read the contract, but said it would be premature to comment on the schedule before he had a chance to sit down “and really look at it and speak with the officers about their concerns.”

The Selectboard plans to contact the union this week for clarification on what the bidding process should look like. In the meantime, the officers will continue to work their regular hours. Officer Rogers said they had received an email from Robinson extending the current hours for a week and suggested sorting it out when the new chief arrives.

The Selectboard agreed, voting to maintain the current schedules for the next two weeks. Downey said he would let Robinson know about the extension. Robinson was unavailable for comment yesterday.

This is the first year the town’s police officers have worked under a union contract.

“There is a learning curve,” the senior Rogers said after the meeting.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at or 603-727-3210.

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