City police set to welcome young assistants to force

VERGENNES — Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel has chartered a city branch of the national Police Explorers organization, a program that allows youths to learn about police work and even help police do some jobs, such as direct traffic, City Manager Mel Hawley told aldermen at their Sept. 18 meeting.
Hawley said Merkel has already held two organizational meetings at Vergennes Union High School, and about 15 students have said they will sign up.
Hawley told aldermen such a group, which has operated for many years in Middlebury, where Merkel worked before taking over as the Vergennes chief almost three years ago, could benefit both participants and its host community.
“It has a big effect in keeping youth active and out of trouble,” he said, as well as helping some participants choose law enforcement as a career path.
And once the Explorers reach a certain level of training, they can help out with traffic control on Vergennes Day and other civic events, including charity runs and bicycle races. That aid means the city can potentially save money on overtime for its regular police officers or in hiring security.
“There is some benefit to us,” Hawley said.
Alderwoman Ziggy Comeau said some of the students no doubt would come from surrounding towns, which could offer some financial support to the program if necessary. At the very least, she said, the program could strengthen ties among the local communities.
“We could get all the towns involved in it,” Comeau said. “It might be something to bring us all together.”
Hawley said he does not expect any cost-sharing to be necessary, however, because it is not an expensive program and participants do their own fundraising.
“I don’t see it as being a big expense,” he said.
Aldermen Renny Perry said he has experience with the Explorer program in other communities where he has served as a manager or elected leader, and he agreed with Hawley.
“They tend to raise money and seek sponsors on their own,” Perry said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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