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New law takes teeth out of constables’ job

BRANDON — George “Gigi” Corsones has been a fixture in Brandon, directing traffic on the bank corner and a perennial choice for constable since 1996. But as of July 1, the duties of the 85-year-old and many other town constables statewide without the proper training will be limited.
That’s because Act 103, passed in 2007 and delayed until July 1, 2012, will require all town constables to go through a week of part-time law enforcement training at the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford plus 60 hours of field training in order to perform basic law enforcement duties as constable, such as traffic control.
“We’re too litigious as a society right now,” said Steve Jeffrey, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT). “You need to know more in order to protect yourself and you need to make sure you’re not harming the public in doing so.”
Jeffrey said the League is working with police academy Director Rich Gauthier to figure out which constables have met the requirement and which have at least signed up for the required training prior to May 1. Those constables will be allowed to continue in their regular duties as long as they complete the part-time certification by July 1, 2013.
But all of the other constables, including Corsones, will only be allowed to perform very limited list of duties after July 1, including:
•Destroying an animal.
•Killing an injured deer.
•Assisting the town health officer.
•Service of civil or criminal process, such as serving subpoenas.
•Service as a superior court officer.
•Removing disorderly people from town meeting.
•Acting as tax collector if the town does not have one.
While the role of constable may seem outdated, in many small Vermont towns, the constable is the only law enforcement officer available. Smaller municipalities without their own police department must rely on contracted services with the county sheriff and the Vermont State Police, but the town constable plays a much more active role, often making arrests, doing traffic stops and carrying a firearm.
The need for certification has increased in recent years and Jeffrey said there was one incident where a town constable responded to a domestic disturbance and ended up shooting the husband at the scene.
Corsones said he has attended over 30 hours of training at the academy over the years, including a traffic coordination class, and doesn’t see how the new law applies to him.
“I had my training 15 years ago,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “So, I don’t see where the law pertains to me. I don’t do law enforcement, I just do the bank corner, the parades. I’ve never written a ticket. I’m just there to help the police.”
But Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell said by law, traffic control is law enforcement and falls under the responsibilities that require constables to have the part-time law enforcement training.
“The training that Gigi has done is in-service training,” Brickell said. “But he doesn’t have the basic certification of a law enforcement office.”
For many years, there was an exemption from the required training for elected constables, but that provision has been thrown out.
Corsones, who will turn 86 on July 3, said working with people is the best part of his job and he would like to continue doing it.
“I just love people,” he said. “I talk to everybody. I’m in good health and I feel good. I don’t carry a gun, I just carry myself and I try to help the people and the police.”
Brickell said it’s a difficult situation.
“Gigi is an icon in this town,” he said. “He has always been available to the police department anytime we’ve asked him for assistance. He’s always been a fixture at the Independence Day Parade and he will be missed.”
Part of the required part-time law enforcement training puts the student officers in a police cruiser with trained officers and allows the student a chance to observe real police situations. The training is also done at the police academy, and getting constables to the site has been difficult logistically. But Brickell stressed that constables statewide have known about the coming change in the statute for years.
“The Criminal Justice Training Council and VLCT have been trying to figure out how to get these guys trained for years,” he said. “You don’t want someone enforcing the law if they don’t know the rules of arrest.”
If the uncertified constables continue to perform their duties outside of the new law, they could be charged with impersonating an officer.
In the meantime, Gigi Corsones will continue to direct midday traffic at the bank corner in downtown Brandon until July 1.
“I don’t want to do police investigations or anything like that,” he said. “I’m a Navy man, I just love doing this now that I’m retired. I just love the people. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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