The Vermont State Police (VSP) is the state police agency for the U.S. State of Vermont, and has jurisdiction throughout the state.
On the state level, only the Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Patrol provided centralized, statewide law enforcement services. Members of that Department patrolled the state's roadways on motorcycles enforcing motor vehicle law and investigating accidents. Infractions not related to use of a highway or the safe operation of a motor vehicle had to be referred to a county authority.
Communication with Highway Patrol members prior to the use of police radios, was accomplished through posting of signs in public places. This method of communicating required a strong relationship with the public that was being served. Highway Patrol Officers would call their stations for messages about accidents or the status of motor vehicle complaints when signs were posted. Today this close association with the public would be considered community policing.
The seed of the movement that would become a Department of Public Safety was first planted in 1935 when a special committee was formed to study the feasibility of a statewide police system. The results of this study were positive and support began to grow. The Vermont State Grange, at the time a powerful group, and many farmers were among the early supporters of a statewide law enforcement agency. The first bill to establish a Department of Public Safety was introduced in the 1937 biennial session of the Vermont General Assembly. It was defeated. The defeat of the original proposal has been attributed to lobbying by the sheriffs who perceived a loss of power and a conservative legislature with a tight hold on the purse strings.
The disappearance of an eighteen year old female Bennington College student in 1946 resulted in changes to the attitudes of many opponents of the formation of a Department of Public Safety. Bennington county officials were unsuccessful in locating the student and were forced to call on State Police investigators from Connecticut and New York for assistance. Local investigators and the state police forces from Connecticut and New York were at a loss for clues in the case so the Governor of Vermont called the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Tragically the case was never solved. This case, plus Governor Ernest W. Gibson's efforts ended a decade-long struggle with the Vermont General Assembly passing Act No. 163. The agency authority was constituted on July 1, 1947 and styled "the Vermont Department of Public Safety."
Twenty-seven officers from the Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Patrol were incorporated into the new department. Troopers were outfitted with khaki shirts with contrasting shoulder passant, cuffs, and pocket lapels on Fern green and trimmed in Old Gold galloon. A Fern green necktie is worn. A cloisonné coat of arms of Vermont in gold and enamel is worn on the shirt collars. Most members of the force wore Fern green breeches with a single or double Old Gold colored leg stripe, wool tunics of the same colors, a black Sam Browne belt and jackboot. The uniform remains with little modification. The Second World War association of breeches and jackboots with Nazism caused many U.S. state and municipal forces to curtail use of breeches and jackboots except for mounted horse and motor patrols. In Vermont both troopers and game wardens of the state's Department of Fish and Game transitioned away from the breeches and high polished black boots to tailored trousers, retaining the Old Gold leg stripes.
The State Police improved police services through training, public relations and safety education. The Department became visible through appearances at fairs, in schools and civic gatherings. School safety patrols were started. For many years, end of the year school patrol picnics were a well-earned treat for the volunteers. Troopers joined these picnics serving hot dogs and ice cream to the students.General Edson resigned in mid-1951 after four years of valuable service. William H. Baumann was selected to become Commissioner on July 1, 1951. Commissioner Baumann, only thirty-one years old at the time, became the youngest State Police Commissioner in the nation. A number of changes came to the growing Department in the mid-1950s.
The Field Force Division started using radar as a speed enforcement tool in 1954. Two bloodhounds, "Duchess" and "Major" joined the force and made significant contributions in searches and rescues. The Crime Lab began to use color photography as an identification tool. A new microwave installation was also completed between Headquarters and the Rutland District Office improving radio communications.
The Department expand into the polygraph field at about the same time. The first polygraph instrument was purchased and Trooper Glenn Davis became the state's first licensed polygrapher. Before this the Department had to use facilities and examiners in neighboring states. The first year of polygraph operation 115 examinations were requested by law enforcement agencies. The 1960s saw changes in Vermont that impacted the Department. Vermont changed as new industries, such as IBM and GE, brought new residents to the State. Vermont was no longer a quiet place in the backwater of the country. Socio-economic changes took place with long-term effects on the capacities of law enforcement. The four season recreation industry created economic growth, and resulted in increased out-of-state visitors. Labor Day in the 1940s and 50s meant the end of heavy traffic, but during the early 1960s that changed as Vermont became the destination for fall foliage, hunting, skiing and snowmobiling. The Departmental strength was 118 State Police and 60 civilians at the beginning of 1960. The state's population was 389,881. There were only 41.4 miles of Interstate highway compared with 320 miles in 1998.
Between 1960 and 1970 licensed drivers increased by 35%, the number of registered vehicles increased by 51%, and the interstate system was completed with 320 miles of divided highway.
E.A. Alexander became the third Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in 1965 with the rank of Colonel. Colonel Alexander was the only appointed Commissioner who had been a Trooper promoted to Commissioner, having begun his career with the Motor Vehicle Highway Patrol in 1929.
The 1960s was the beginning of the drug culture. The Department handled an increased number of complaints involving illegal drugs. By the late 1960s the alleged drug problem had become a significant Vermont problem. The Department and the Legislature recognized the growing drug problem and the Legislature approved a Drug Abuse Control Program. The goal of the program was education, inspection and enforcement. The Department conducted 56 drug investigations in 1968. That number had grown to 374 by 1970.
Also in 1970, the Department went on line with the FBI National Crime Information Center. NCIC messages increased from 430 in 1968 to 1,036 in 1970.
Events of the 1960s led to the creation of a number of special teams and programs to meet the diverse needs of the population. A Marine Division was formed and became active in 1960. By 1966 it had five outboard motor patrol boats and a 35 foot cruiser to patrol the State's waterways. A Search and Rescue Team was organized to look for lost persons and conduct rescues in our mountainous terrain.
The Department grew to 193 State Police and 85 civilians by June 30, 1970. E.W. Corcoran was appointed the new Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety on July 1, 1970. The early 70s saw the Crime Lab expanded to offer forensic chemistry. The first civilian, a chemist toxicologist, began to replace sworn police officers in the crime lab. A mobile crime laboratory was constructed to provide forensic services in the field.
The Department had six undercover officers in the 1970s. Long hair, dirty jeans, and thong sandals provided cover while they worked in narcotic interdiction.
Executive Order Number 35 issued in May, 1971, turned the Pittsford Sanatorium over to the Department for use as a law enforcement training facility. A Canine Unit was established to provide patrol dogs. The Department had only tracking bloodhounds before this. The Identification and Records Division changed its name to the Vermont Criminal Information Center and became the official state repository for all criminal records, photographs, descriptions, and fingerprints. Capturing of this data was all done manually; not until 1976 was computer equipment purchased which allowed statewide access to the information. Data requests averaged 40 a day in the 70s compared to the current 271,000.
The Department hired the first two women Troopers in 1977. Although the number of women fluctuated during the years, there are a total of 20 female Vermont State Troopers, encompassing various positions to include BCI, Child Abuse and Neglect investigators, training and recruitment, arson investigator, patrol commander, and patrol Troopers in 1998.
Federal funds allowed for the creation of an Interstate Troop in 1977 to provide the speed enforcement of the 55 mph program. The 70s also saw the organization of a fraud unit to investigate white collar crime as well as a scuba dive team to recover drowning victims or evidence.
The Fire Prevention Division was abolished and its functions transferred to the Department of Labor and Industry. An Arson Unit was formed with the responsibility for investigation of all suspicious fires in the State.
By the end of the decade the Vermont's population had grown to 477,427. There were 383,108 registered vehicles and 352,715 licensed drivers. Department strength grew to 259 State Police and 120 civilians.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a rapid succession of commissioners: Francis E. Lynch (1977 - 1979); Warren Cone (1979-1980) and, for a short period of time, Commissioner Baumann returned to the ranks.
Paul R. Philbrook was appointed Commissioner in 1980 and re-established stability to the Department. Charles A. Bristow became Commissioner on July 1, 1984, followed by Commissioner A. James Walton, Jr. on June 1, 1986. Commissioner Walton served the Department from 1986 until he was replaced by the Department's current Commissioner, Kerry L. Sleeper, in 2003.
Headquarters moved to the Vermont State Office Complex at Waterbury from Montpelier in the Spring of 1983.
The Communications Division had designed and installed a statewide microwave and telecommunications system. These services were provided by the Department in support of all state agencies.
In late 1987 the Department was selected to administer a drug control and systems improvement grant from the federal government. This grant funded the first multi-jurisdictional drug task force in Vermont. The State Police transferred the Special Investigations Unit drug investigators into a new task force with a number of local departments supplying full time investigators.
Changes in technology and the organization of the Department of Public Safety in the early 90s helped improve the Department's operating efficiency through reorganization and technology. Reorganization resulted in updating of rank of Trooper, consolidation and reduction in the number of positions, sworn positions being replaced by civilians and the creation of the Criminal Justice Services Division to replace the State Police Support Services Division. The Vermont Criminal Information Center started the automation of criminal records in 1995. Records were automated and included all information on file for a person, eliminating the need for manually searching the files.
Technological advances incorporated by the Department allowed conversion to infrared driving while intoxicated (DWI) processing equipment, establish a DNA analysis capability in the forensic laboratory and install a computer aided dispatch (CAD) records management system.
Changes continue to be made throughout the Department. A recent reorganization resulted in going from five to four Troop areas. Dispatching services are being consolidated with a pilot project in Rockingham/Brattleboro/Shaftsbury.
To be eligible to participate in the promotional process for any rank a member must have received a rating of “meets or exceeds” in overall performance on his/her two most recent performance evaluations; and must have achieved an overall average in the most recent physical fitness evaluation to the extent contractually required unless excused by a medical certificate.
All members begin their service with the state police as Troopers, Second Class. Listed below are the various ranks and the insignia that that each rank wears.
|Colonel||The Director of the Vermont State Police may be promoted to full Colonel at the discretion of the Commissioner.|
|Lieutenant Colonel||The Director of the Vermont State Police is a Lieutenant Colonel. The Commissioner of Public Safety makes this appointment for a term of three years. The Director may be reappointed at the Commissioner's discretion.|
|Major||Captains may be promoted to Major on a case by case basis when the need arises. Currently the State Police has two Majors, each overseeing one of the major divisions of the State Police i.e., Uniform and Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).|
|Captain||Lieutenants with three years of experience at that rank may be considered for promotion to Captain. Each troop area is overseen by a Captain. There are also a number of Captains in staff positions.|
|Lieutenant||Sergeants with four years of experience at that level may be considered for promotion to Lieutenant. Lieutenants are commissioned officers and the rank generally includes Station Commanders as well as Commanders of other specialized divisions within the State Police. All members hired after January 1, 1998, must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to be eligible for a promotion to Lieutenant.|
|Sergeant||Troopers are eligible for consideration for promotion to sergeant after a minimum of five years with the Department. Sergeants in the State Police are the first line supervisors, typically referred to as Patrol Commanders. Many of the Department's detectives also hold the rank of Sergeant. All members hired after January 1, 1998, must possess an associate’s degree from an accredited college or university to be eligible for a promotion to Sergeant.|
|Corporal||Senior Troopers are promoted to Corporal upon completion of fifteen years of service.|
|Senior Trooper||Trooper First Class are promoted to Senior Trooper upon completion of three years of service.|
|Trooper First Class||Troopers are promoted to the rank of Trooper First Class after one year of service with the Department.|
|Trooper Second Class||Trooper Second Class No rank insignia. This is the entry level rank of all members of the State Police.|
Since the founding of the Vermont State Police, four officers have died in the line of duty.
|Officer||Date of Death||Details|
|Sergeant Arthur "Bud" Yeaw||May 13, 1983||Accidentally shot|
|Investigator Sergeant William J. Chenard||June 14, 1987||Heart attack during a search mission|
|Sergeant Gary Allen Gaboury||May 12, 1992||Drown while attempting to recover a body|
|Sergeant Michael W. Johnson||June 15, 2003||Struck during vehicle pursuit|
In the 2001 film Super Troopers, the protagonists of the story were patrolmen of the Vermont State Police.