Selectmen would rather take a pass on passing on complaints about policing.
Got a complaint about law enforcement in Bethel?
“Call the sheriff,” town selectmen advised Monday night.
Or, if you insist having your complaint forwarded through a selectman or the town manager, then be prepared to provide clear details of the happenings in question, and be willing to sign your name.
Monday's discussion was prompted by Selectman Don Bennett, who was looking for a consistent board policy in handling such situations.
When a selectman fields flak about law enforcement, Bennett said, “I'd just like to have us have some consistency among the five – or perhaps, six,” he said, noting Town Manager Jim Doar. “I would feel much better if we just came up with some policy, if you will, that simply says: 'Here is how it's going to work.'”
Board Chair Stan Howe immediately suggested that Bennett simply tell the complainant to “call the sheriff, and that's it. We have no control over what the sheriff does.”
But, replied Bennett: “Quite frankly, I hate to look at my constituents and tell them: 'Don't call me, call the Sheriff's Department.'”
And, he added that some residents “have been pretty adamant," saying in effect: “'I don't care if we did hire the Sheriff's Department – You're my selectman.'”
The more things change ...
Bennett conceded that much of the complaining is groundless.
“It's basically the same old grumbling that we got when we had our own police department – a drive-by grumble.”
For example, in a note to the board he summarized the complaint that promoted his call for a board policy:
"1) Gathering of law enforcement vehicles and officers for over 20 minutes in Mallard Mart parking lot included state police vehicle and at least two sheriff's cars.
"2) They were harassed a few days ago by a deputy and feel that it was “Verbal Abuse.” This was over a sticker violation and they pay lots of taxes in town and do not need to be treated this way.
Also, “Do not need to see a cruiser every corner I go around.”
Selectman Bob Everett noted that the anonymous complainant did not provide even the most basic information that would be needed for investigating the first item's validity – for example, the types of cruisers involved.
“Bethel does not control the actions of the state police,” he said, “and the county cruisers the complainant saw may not even have been the cruisers assigned to Bethel.”
He likened the complaint to those in days of yore, when Bethel had its own department.
He recalled a frequent one: “I saw Bethel's cruiser down in Bryant Pond!”
“Well, to get to 232, you gotta go there,” Everett said (with increasing animation).
“There's just no way around it. That's part of Bethel down there, and they deserve to see the cruiser just as much as anybody else.”
To complain or comment directly to the sheriff, call his assistant, Linda Hooker, at 743-9554, Ext 4; 1-(800) 733-1421 Ext 4; or 824-3437 Ext 4.
The sheriff can be reached directly by e-mail at: email@example.com.
The naming convention (first initial, last name, @oxfordcountysheriff.com ) is consistent throughout the department and can be used for reaching individual deputies as well.