Vergennes police honored for going above and beyond

VERGENNES — Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel at last week’s city council meeting handed out Meritorious Service Awards to members of his department for heroism, compassion, the successful investigation of a crime spree, and dedication to traffic safety. Merkel also publicly promoted a veteran officer. 
Probably the most dramatic recognition went to Officer Mark Stacey, who this spring ran into the United Technologies Corp. Building on Panton Road after an explosion. 
Stacey, Merkel said, entered the smoke-filled building to help employees evacuate “despite the possibility of a second explosion due to volatile materials within.” 
Officers Mark Barber and Officer Jill Harter were recognized for arresting the man who broke into 18 vehicles and stole money and items from many of them between May and July 2018, both in Vergennes and surrounding towns. As well as citations related to the vehicle break-ins, Merkel noted police also cited the suspect for aggravated domestic assault and an outstanding arrest warrant.
Sergeant Jason Ouellette and Officer Adam O’Neill were honored for what Merkel called their “extreme restraint and compassion” in dealing with a man suffering from a traumatic brain injury who was disorderly while at the Three Squares Café. Merkel noted that Ouellette and O’Neill were praised by customer and staff members on the scene and later by mental health professionals for the officers’ patience and sensitivity in persuading the man to leave quietly with them. 
Merkel surprised longtime Officer Patrick Greenslet by promoting him to corporal. Greenslet is a 31-year law enforcement veteran who has served in Vergennes for 18 years. 
Merkel also honored both Greenslet and Stacey for their work in motor vehicle enforcement. Merkel noted that Stacey, who will soon start serving as a countywide traffic safety coordinator while continuing to work out of the city department, conducted 478 traffic stops and ticketed 278 drivers, while issuing almost 200 warnings. Greenslet conducted 319 traffic stops and issued 18 citations for impaired driving. 
Merkel said that he also nominated Ouellette for the American Legion Vermont Law Enforcement Officer of the Year “due to his exceptional leadership skills, job skills, mentorship,” and successful criminal and narcotics investigations. 
Merkel also noted that Officer Mark Barber had successfully completed training to become a Drug Recognition Expert, a designation meaning he can determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs and his testimony carries weight in court, and that Ouellette had attended a national tactical officers instructor course for officer response to active shooters. Since then, Merkel said, Ouellette has conducted a training session for the department and other local officers. 
Merkel also referenced the recently obtained $195,000 state and federal grant that is funding Stacey’s position, which will allow the department to coordinate traffic safety efforts with Middlebury and Bristol police, and help fund them in all three departments. Merkel is optimistic the grant will be renewed on an annual basis. 
Merkel told the council the department will remain committed to community policing and to the safety of Vergennes. 
“We value the support and cooperation with our community and we will continue to work on developing our relationship with our citizens and specifically our youth,” he said. “We will also be focusing on individual and collective training this next year to improve the department’s overall effectiveness and capabilities.”
And he praised his officers.
“I can’t emphasize enough how valuable these guys are to the community of Vergennes,” Merkel said. “I can’t say enough about these guys.”
To conclude, members of the council and the police department lined up in opposite rows for handshakes, but not before Mayor Renny Perry got a word in. 
“Thank you, chief, for you and your department,” Perry said. “You make us proud.”

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