Mount Abe cancels police security contract

BRISTOL — The Bristol selectboard voiced concerns at its most recent meetings over Mount Abe Union High School’s cancellation last November of its security agreement with the Bristol Police Department.
Ending the contract means that local police stopped doing nightly and weekend security checks of the building and cut back the hours MAUHS brings in officers as security for school sports events. The school maintained the arrangement whereby the BPD responds to calls, according to Police Chief Kevin Gibbs.
Mount Abe has to pay for police services because it is just outside the Bristol Police District, which runs roughly from the west side of Airport Drive to the Lord’s Prayer Rock and from just north of Plank Road to Lathrop Forest Products on South Street. Otherwise the school gets police protection from the Vermont State Police, whose New Haven barracks covers most of Addison County.
When the police are called to respond to incidents at the school, the BPD charges MAUHS $45 per response. For security checks — coming to the school nightly and twice on weekends to check all doors and windows and be on the lookout for theft or vandalism — the department charges $20 per security check.
Gibbs said the department has typically charged Mount Abe around $160 a month for the security checks and that the BPD typically provides the high school with far more security coverage than they actually bill for.
Back on Nov. 9, MAUHS Principal Jessica Barewicz responded to an invoice from the Bristol Police Department by calling Chief Gibbs to cancel the security arrangement. While the cancellation will result in a drop of about 50 percent of anticipated revenue from MAUHS for fiscal year 2016-2017 (around $3,000), Gibbs said his overriding concern is the risk of theft or vandalism to the high school and middle school.
“Somebody could do a significant amount of damage or they could suffer a significant loss over there because of a security issue,” said Gibbs. “The state police are primary law enforcement for the high school but they are not going to be driving through the high school grounds.”
Members of the selectboard, at their Monday night meeting, wanted to know more about why the security contract had been cancelled and expressed concerns about what it might mean for the BDP’s budget this year and next.
Barewicz said in an email to the Independent that cancelling the regular security checks made financial sense for the school, and Mount Abe will continue to depend on Bristol police for other services.
“We very much value our partnership with Bristol Police Department,” Barewicz wrote. “Mt. Abe did not have a formal contract or (memorandum of understanding) with BPD for this school year. As they were providing services as they had in the past, we learned of those services through an invoice and began a conversation. BPD and Mt. Abe officials both recognize the need to meet and discuss the services BPD provides to Mt. Abe and that it is our intent to formalize an agreement for these services.”
The BPD has had no written contract with the high school, Gibbs said. Instead, for decades the department and MAUHS have had a verbal agreement as to how many times per week or in what circumstances the department would perform security checks. That arrangement has varied from having checks on weekends and holidays only to having checks nightly, as well as on weekends and holidays.
Last year, Gibbs said, he and then-principal Carole Fenimore worked out a written Memorandum of Understanding, also called an MOU, but that the signed copies of the document seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle with the leadership changes in July 2016: Barewicz replaced Fenimore, and Superintendent Patrick Reen replaced Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca.
Gibbs said he contacted Reen after Barewicz cancelled the security contract, but Reen was unaware of the MOU.
The MOU that Fenimore and Gibbs agreed to spelled out policies and procedures regarding drugs and alcohol; theft; safety; truancy; and investigation, interview, search and arrest procedures. It articulated common goals, such as:
•  Reducing substance abuse.
•  Reducing suspensions for fights and truancy.
•  Protecting campus property and infrastructure.
•  Helping students build conflict-resolution skills.
•  Supporting parents with strategies for handling drug and alcohol use, conflict resolution and other adolescent issues.
•  Improving the community response to teen issues.
The MOU also spelled out the charges for police services and the regularity of security checks. (The 2015-2016 MOU can be accessed in full at the end of this article.)
The amount of revenue that the BPD budgets from Mount Abe is small when compared to the department’s budget as a whole, but still significant. For 2016-2017, Bristol police budgeted $6,000 in revenue from MAUHS, compared to total budgeted spending  of $415,999.
Security checks are typically around 40-50 percent of that total revenue, Gibbs said, putting the anticipated shortfall for this year at roughly $3,000.
The anticipated loss of the security check revenue is taking a hit on the proposed 2017-2018 budget as well, where projected BPD revenue from Mount Abe is proposed at $1,600. In past years, the BPD revenue from Mount Abe has ranged from $3,473 in 2013-2014 to $8,030 in 2014-2015.
For Gibbs, the issues surrounding the MAUHS security contract demonstrate the kinds of problems that can arise when one side of a street in Bristol is within the police district and the other is not — as is the case with Airport Drive.
Gibbs questions whether the separation of Bristol into police district and non-police district is truly in residents’ best interest. The separation dates back to when town and village government merged in the early 1990s, and the police district was left within the village boundaries.
Officially the Vermont State Police cover those parts of Bristol outside the police district, but Gibbs feels that the BPD could provide better service to the community if its service area were expanded to include all of Bristol.
“The state police are covering 19 towns and on average there’s two or three troopers covering all of those 19 towns. So if there’s a problem in Bristol they may be dealing with problems in Shoreham that they can’t get up here for,” said Gibbs. “We can put more attention on a problem in Bristol than the state police can. We have cases we’ve solved, some burglaries and some other crimes in the town because we got the information and we were able to act on it and the state police just couldn’t get to it.”
Barewicz said Bristol police officers will still be seen at Mount Abe.
“We continue to work closely with BPD to provide support at events and games, to support students as necessary, and continue to appreciate their commitment to ensuring a safe learning environment for our students,” she said.
The police department has again reached out to Barewicz and Reen and initiated a conversation to set up meetings to look at the MOU. No meeting date has yet been set.
“What I’m hoping will come from that meeting is that we get another look at the MOU and we get signatures by all the parties so we have an understanding of how we all work together,” said Gibbs.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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