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Palmer wins Democratic primary for Windsor sheriff 

  • Ryan Palmer campaigns on the Democratic primary ticket for Windsor County sheriff at the polls in Hartford, Vt., on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Palmer won the Democratic primary and will face incumbent Republican Michael Chamberlain in the general election in November. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Ryan Palmer waves to drivers on the corner of Sykes Mountain Avenue and North Main Street in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Palmer won the Democratic primary for Windsor County sheriff and will face incumbent Republican Michael Chamberlain in the general election in November. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2022 10:02:17 AM
Modified: 8/11/2022 12:09:33 AM

WOODSTOCK — Ryan Palmer, a Ludlow, Vt., police officer who says he wants to “change rural law enforcement in Vermont,” easily won the Democratic primary for Windsor County sheriff on Tuesday, trouncing his rival and setting up a challenge to unseat Windsor County’s longtime incumbent.

Palmer, 35, received 4,366 votes, or 44.2%, compared with his primary opponent, Thomas Battista, 56, who received 2,963 votes, or 29.9%.

Michael Chamberlain, 74, the current Republican sheriff, who has not faced a challenger in the general election since he was reelected to the office in 2002, received a total of 1,749 votes.

“I’m obviously very thankful and very grateful that the election turned out this way,” Palmer said on Wednesday afternoon, squeezing in a phone interview on his way to working the third shift at the Ludlow Police Department.

Palmer tipped his cap to his primary rival for conducting a “great campaign” and expressed hope that Battista, a 20-year deputy in the sheriff’s department, would stay on if Palmer wins the general election this fall.

“Tom is part of the solution, and hopefully we can bring some of his ideas to life and work together in the future,” Palmer said.

Formerly a cop in his hometown of Windsor, Palmer spent more than $30,000 — most of it his own money — on the primary race, running on the slogan “end policing for profit” and waging the kind of campaign. Facebook ads, ample media availabilities, lawn signs and waving a placard at the Sykes Mountain Avenue traffic circle in White River Junction, helped him get his name before county residents.

“I have a vision for the sheriff’s department and I think voters recognized that,” Palmer said.

Whether that vision is possible, or shared among Windsor County constituents widely, remains to be seen.

Several elements of Palmer’s platform involve recasting the sheriff’s department to become a more proactive, countywide law enforcement agency, a role it traditionally has not had the resources, funding or ambition to fulfill.

For the most part, Vermont’s 14 county sheriff’s departments provide prosaic law enforcement support functions such as transporting inmates between prison and court, courthouse security, traffic control along highway construction sites, process serving for civil lawsuits and contracting with towns to flag speeders and write tickets.

And because the sheriff’s departments get only a smidgen of funding from the state and county, they rely upon securing municipal and private contracts to pay for everything from deputy salaries to equipment, a system that even sheriffs themselves acknowledge, is more like running a business than a tax-supported public service.

Palmer believes that the unheralded sheriff’s departments can be put to greater crime-fighting purpose by contracting with towns that cannot afford their own police departments to provide regular patrolling, crime scene response and investigation, arrests and charging that in Vermont is by customarily left to local cops and state troopers.

The need for greater police protection is acute, Palmer argues, as towns can’t find officers to hire and are facing ever more brazen and dangerous episodes of crime-related illicit drug use and distribution.

Palmer sees an opportunity for the sheriff’s department to jump into that void and spend less of its energy flagging down motorists for speeding, a practice Palmer claims has more to do with filling town coffers than fighting crime.

(Palmer, however, said he’s not opposed to accepting the 5% of the contract fees that sheriffs are entitled to earn under Vermont law.)

“Much to his credit, Ryan has identified a problem and wants to fix it,” said David Cahill, a former Windsor County state’s attorney who now teaches criminal law at Vermont Law and Graduate School. “And until he launched his campaign there was very little discussion about the sheriff’s department playing a positive role in that.”

But Cahill noted that Palmer’s idea is a big lift that, at least as currently structured, exceeds the department’s grasp.

“Whoever inherits the sheriff’s department and wishes to turn that vessel into a full-service law enforcement agency is going to have to find a way to pay for it, pay for the training, pay for the equipment, pay for the man hours, pay for the tuition” at Vermont Police Academy to upgrade the training level of personnel — even some of the state’s sheriffs do not have the highest Level 3 certification, Cahill said.

A closer look at Tuesday’s election results shows in which towns Palmer’s message was received most favorably.

In Hartford’s two wards, Palmer pulled 914 votes compared with 442 votes for Battista and 42 votes for Chamberlain. In Norwich, Palmer received 557, Battista 300 and Chamberlain 46. In Windsor — Palmer’s hometown where he also last year was elected to the Selectboard — Palmer pulled 291 votes versus 175 for Battista and zero for Chamberlain.

Among Windsor County’s 24 towns, Battista bested Palmer in only five towns, one of which is Battista’s hometown of Springfield, where he trounced Palmer 580 votes to 302 votes.

In Woodstock, Chamberlain’s hometown, the Republican received 75 votes, which is 51 fewer than the 126 votes he received four years ago in the primary (Chamberlain also received a total of 1,749 votes on Tuesday, down from 1,985 votes her received in the 2018 primary).

Roger Marcoux, who has been sheriff of Lemoille County since 2001 and also president of the Vermont Sheriff’s Association, said he hasn’t been closely following the sheriff’s race in Windsor County and didn’t want to “bash” another candidate or their platform.

But he noted that Vermont’s sheriff’s departments can look a little peculiar to people who get their image of what sheriffs do from states that, unlike Vermont, have the county form of government.

Vermont sheriffs’ departments, Marcoux explained, are a “niche” law enforcement organization that are good at providing security backup and small-town policing but are not equipped to handle major crime episodes or investigations.

“I’m absolutely opposed that we should have bomb squads and SWAT teams and things like that,” Marcoux said, explaining they require highly trained teams, as do homicide and narcotics investigations.

“A sheriff can get themselves in a lot of trouble if they don’t have expertise in that area,” he said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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