Police achievements honored at Vergennes council meeting

VERGENNES — Several members of the Vergennes Police Department, including its chief, were honored before the Jan. 31 city council meeting.
Notable among the honorees were:
•  Officer Jason Ouellette, who was promoted to detective after working to solve several high-profile cases.
•  Officer Brent Newton, who was recognized for becoming one of just 3,000 policemen worldwide who has qualified as a Drug Recognition Expert, which will allow him to determine if a driver is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs and to testify in court as an expert on the issue. Newton also for the third straight year was honored for his work in traffic enforcement.
•  Sgt. Pat Greenslet, who received an additional service stripe to recognize his 25 years of service in law enforcement.
Police Chief George Merkel was surprised at the end of the annual recognition night by a certificate presented by City Manager Mel Hawley, which Hawley said the members of the city department had requested city officials to give to their chief.
The certificate — signed by Hawley and Mayor Michael Daniels — stated that since Merkel joined the department he has “banded the department together,” “taken the department to a new level of professionalism, integrity, honor and sense of duty,” and “touched the lives of all the officers in the department in a positive manner, making them strive to be better today than they were yesterday.”
“George is real proud of his officers, obviously,” Hawley said. “And I think the officers are equally proud of what they have accomplished, and equally proud of their leader.”
In response, Merkel agreed.
“I am very proud of my officers,” Merkel said. “They have a true work ethic.”
He also told an anecdote about one officer (who was not identified) who bought a birthday cake for a young resident from a troubled home after the officer learned the youth’s family was not celebrating the event. Merkel said that any officer in his department would have done the same.
“The most important attribute of a police officer is his heart,” he said.
Merkel also recognized Officer Robert Worley for his five years in law enforcement, Officer Rejean LaFleche for completing his training, Officer Adam O’Neill as the newest full-time member of the force, and Officer Jori Fairbanks as the newest part-time member of the department.
Also honored were three citizens for what Merkel called “their courageous presentations” at the anti-substance abuse forum that Merkel helped organize in December: Ferrisburgh’s Andrew Coyle, Salisbury’s Diane Manning, and — in absentia — Hancock’s Linda Namy.
Merkel also summed up for aldermen the department’s year. He said in 2011 officers:
•  Responded to 2,085 calls, an increase of 11 percent from 2011.
•  Made 49 felony arrests, a one-year increase of 145 percent.
•  Issued 143 misdemeanor citations, wrote 495 traffic tickets, and gave 408 verbal traffic warnings.
“These officers have distinguished themselves,” he said.
In the coming years, Merkel said he hopes to establish a department website, bike patrols and physical fitness policies, and purchase dress uniforms for its officers.
Merkel also said the department worked well under the “community policing” model, with greater cooperation with residents and a greater willingness among citizens to approach officers with complaints and information.
“We want to work together with the community with the goal of keeping Vergennes safe,” he said. 

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