By RUSSELL JONES
Since the beginning of the year, Brandon Police have written almost double the number of traffic tickets at this point last year.
Brandon Police Chief Christopher Brickell told the selectboard at its May 27 meeting that the department has made 40 arrests, written 188 traffic tickets and given out 281 warnings — which, just among tickets, is 88 more than last year. Road construction through town and cell phone use was cited as the primary reasons.
Brickell attributed the increase in tickets to new officers in the department, several tickets being issued in the work zone through town and increased cell phone use. Of the 188 tickets issued, 11 of those were civil tickets such as minor in possession or consumption of alcohol, marijuana or tobacco.
The largest number of traffic tickets issued, 36, was for driving while using a portable electronic device, or driving while texting. In the category of splitting hairs, Brickell said there were 27 tickets issued for use of cell phone, first violation; four tickets for use of cell phone second violation within two years; two tickets for texting while driving and three tickets for use of cell phone in work zone.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nine people are killed every day in the U.S. by distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that at any moment during daylight hours, 481,000 drivers in the U.S. are handling cell phones or other electronic devices while driving.
“I’m sure we could write more if we had more staff or could dedicate more specific time to it,” Brandon’s top cop said of the continuing problem. “Unfortunately, we are inundated with complaints of speeding on all the back roads due to construction.”
Brickell said reported to the selectboard that he has a police academy candidate to bring the town’s police force back up to seven. The candidate, Michael VonSchleusingen, attended a two-week training course in March at the Vermont Police Academy and is currently working with a Field Training Officer to gain a level II certificate. He hopes to have him prepared to enter the police academy full time this August, which would see him be ready for hire by December 2019.
The chief also reported he has been in talks with the Town Manager and Otter Valley Union High School to hire another full time School Resource Officer and still allow the town to have seven full time officers and stay within its budget. It is not a done deal yet, but he’s hopeful, he said.
“I’m still working on a replacement for the SRO,” he said. “It is dependent, however, on staffing and being able to cover the regular shifts before taking someone off patrol to go to the school.”
The chief said if the talks continue to progress positively, the school would pay almost three-fourths of the officer’s salary and benefits, while allowing the department to keep its full coverage of the town.
“It is imperative the board consider this staffing now,” Brickell wrote in his report to the selectboard, “given there will be at least two retirements in the not so distant future.”