Changes Coming to St. J Police

St J Police ThumbnailST. JOHNSBURY- Some big changes are coming to the St. Johnsbury Police Department in the next week. They have finally found their new police chief, Tim Gray.
Gray was sworn into office Tuesday at the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center, with his new comrades surrounding him.

 Gray was a Detective Sargeant with the Vermont State Police before retiring in 2008. After 9 years of working part time with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, he decided it was time to get back on the saddle.

"I was looking for a new challenge, something different. This fit the bill, and it's a good community, so I felt it would be a good place to start."

The only concern that was addressed during the hiring process was where Gray lives. He recently built a house in Groton, and plans to commute to and from St. Johnsbury. Some people did voice their opinions about that to Town Manager Chad Whitehead and the Selectboard.

"There's a desire for some people that want all of our employees to live within the town. But [Chief Page] addressed that pretty head on."

"That's up to me. I'll be back and forth when I need to be, I'll be here when I need to be. That's not a concern at all," added Page.

Gray's first day is December 4th, and he plans to use his first couple of weeks to get his feet wet and get to know everyone at the station.

The other change coming to SJPD is a raise in salary for police officers and dispatchers. The deal was agreed upon during Monday night's selectboard meeting. The three year deal brings a five percent raise during the first year, and a three percent raise each of the following two years.

"There's also an incentive pays that are included," said Whitehead. "The officers getting certifications for different things; taking trainings. There's also a physical fitness incentive. So there's opportunity for people who want to work harder to earn more, and I think that's a good thing."

The police department's contract actually expired in June, but the contract contained clauses which allowed the contract to remain in effect during negotiations.

One thing that was clear to Whitehead and the selectboard was that their police officers were underpaid.

"We charted it against surrounding towns of similar size. We looked at Newport City, we looked at Hardwick, Montpelier, St. Albans. Anywhere that had a similar police department to us. We were quite low," said Whitehead.

Pay has been a factor to a high turnover rate, as described by Whitehead.

"[Those who have left] all said that pay wasn't the only reason they were leaving, but everyone who was leaving went to a higher paying job."

With the new contract, St. Johnsbury hopes to attract good employees who want to stick it out for the long haul.
Contracts for the police department, fire department, and Department of Public Works are revisitied every three years. They are staggered, so they have one contract negotiation every year. The next department that will need revisiting is Public Works, which Whitehead says will be done before their June deadline.


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