Peter Newton confirms he’ll run for county sheriff

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Peter Newton is hoping area voters give him a promotion this fall. Newton, 46, is running for sheriff, a position that incumbent Don Keeler will be vacating at the end of this year. Keeler has endorsed his lieutenant, something Newton will undoubtedly reference during a campaign that thus far includes former Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs.
“The sheriff early on said he thought I would be a good replacement for him in the future,” Newton said during a Monday interview at the department headquarters on Court Street in Middlebury. “I have been planning and thinking about it ever since.”
Newton, a Middlebury Democrat, has already logged 28 years in the public safety field.
Certified as an advanced life support EMT, Newton worked for various emergency response organizations from 1990 to 2003, including Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (now known as Middlebury Regional EMS) and Fletcher Allen Coordinated Transport. He is a former crew chief of MVAA’s heavy rescue unit and a past member of the organization’s board of directors.
In 2003, Newton began his law enforcement career, starting off as a Middlebury Police Department officer.
He joined the sheriff’s department in 2012, climbing the ladder from deputy to lieutenant.
Newton has more than 2,000 hours of law enforcement training and is himself an educator. He is a patrol-procedures instructor and basic training assistant at the Vermont Police Academy.
The Addison County Sheriff’s Department has a staff of almost 20 full- and part-time workers performing such duties as traffic patrols, prisoner transport, courthouse security, fingerprinting and service of court-related documents.
If elected sheriff by Addison County voters on Nov. 6, Newton said he’ll have the advantage of hitting the ground running on an ambitious agenda that includes:
•  Bringing a police dog onto the force to help deputies track missing persons and suspects, as well as detect contraband. He acknowledged the New Haven state police barracks, as well as the Middlebury and Vergennes police departments each have K-9 teams, but noted those dogs aren’t always on duty and thus can’t always be on loan.
“We cover a lot of ground Route 22A to Orwell, all the way up to Vergennes,” Newton said. “We cover Route 116 and the Route 7 corridor. So we’re in a lot of areas at a lot of different times. There are three dogs available, but they aren’t always around.”
Having a dedicated police dog assigned full-time to a deputy would enhance the department’s law enforcement capabilities, Newton said.
•  Establishing a county-wide school resource officer, or SRO.
While Middlebury-area schools have an SRO to protect and serve students and educators, most districts don’t have such an amenity because they can’t afford it.
Newton hopes to secure some federal funding to stem school violence. He believes the sheriff’s department, with some help from participating school districts and grants, could bankroll at least one SRO.
“It’s a big issue everywhere, throughout the country,” Newton said of school safety. “SROs are at a minimum, and we need more. If we could come up with a way to have one or two SROs in the county and visit all the schools each week, it would be great. That’s been a goal of ours for a while.”
•  Creating a “cadet” program for local youths interested in helping law enforcement and community members. He envisions a service similar to Middlebury PD’s Explorers program, through which local teens learn about law enforcement, with the officers serving as mentors.
Newton believes a cadets program could teach participating teens the benefits of community service. For example, cadets would be encouraged to help seniors with yard chores.
•  Adding a second drug recognition expert, or DRE, to the department. These DREs are trained to detect folks who have been driving under the influence of drugs. Police currently don’t have the equivalent of a breathalyzer device to prove impairment for drugged driving.
Newton realizes that state and federal dollars are in relatively short supply, so his overriding priority is to maintain the department’s current services. That means continuing to contract with towns for traffic details and partnering with WomenSafe on a detective assigned to the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
It also means continuing a partnership with the Addison County Solid Waste Management District to probe illegal dumping complaints, and patrolling portions of the Green Mountain National Forest.
Finally, fewer dollars from above means the sheriff’s department must provide an office and a detective for the Addison County Unit for Special Investigations, and host the Addison Children’s Advocacy Center.
While Gibbs has said he’d look into re-establishing a county jail, Newton is opposed to the idea. He said state and federal officials aren’t interested in re-booting such a facility in Addison County, adding there are relatively few local prisoners to lodge each week.
Newton is looking forward to running an active campaign.
“This is not a retirement job for me; I’m here for the long haul, to see this department grow into what I think it can be,” Newton said. “We’re already a great department. We’re just going to get a little bit bigger and a little bit better.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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