Starting in September, the town of Springfield will have a new police chief.
Springfield Town Manager Jeff Mobus recently announced that the town has hired Jeff Burnham, 50, who currently serves as deputy chief of police in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
“Jeff’s positive energy is wonderful — I think it’s a breath of fresh air. I think the community is going to love him,” Mobus told the selectboard at its Aug. 15 meeting.
Springfield’s current top two cops, Police Chief Mark Fountain and Lt. Patrick Call, are leaving the force in September. The department has acknowledged its struggle recruiting officers, reducing 24-hour patrols to a 15-hour patrol system with on-call staffing overnight. Currently, Springfield has seven patrol officers, up from five in May, but down from the eight to 10 that the town has had for much of the last decade, according to Fountain.
Amid these departmental difficulties, Springfield has experienced a spate of crimes, including increased reports of gunfire, a homicide and a kidnapping.
Burnham, the incoming chief, sees his new role as an opportunity for positive change.
“I want to make it abundantly clear that I could not be happier being in Springfield,” Burnham told VTDigger in an interview. “I'm looking forward to the challenges, because navigating and overcoming challenges really gets me intellectually stimulated. I like the puzzle, and I want to work.”
Despite the department’s staffing issues, townspeople had continued to “respect” and “appreciate” police, he said.
Burnham began his nearly 30-year law enforcement career in the New Hampshire capital of Concord, before working in Claremont and eventually Lincoln. Raised in Brattleboro, Burnham said he relished the opportunity to move closer to his family, including his father, a Springfield resident.
Asked how he would tackle crime related to substance use in Springfield, Burnham pointed to his work with The Bridge Project, a nonprofit in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, that helps connect at-risk individuals with recovery, housing, parenting support and financial services.
“The Bridge Project is literally the gap between where (law enforcement) leave off and the social service agencies pick up. And I think it is a powerful tool,” Burnham said, adding that he hopes to emulate the project in Springfield.
He also said that he plans to keep the social worker who currently works alongside Springfield Police through Health Care and Rehabilitation Services of Vermont.
To address staffing, Burnham said he hoped to create a culture that made people excited to come to work. While an unhappy employee can be lured elsewhere with a 5% raise, Burnham said satisfied colleagues are loyal to a department.
“My goal is to leverage my optimism and passion through the department, so everyone is feeling motivated by the same things,” he said.
JW Leadership Consulting, run by former Vermont State Police Director James Baker, helped Springfield through the hiring process. The town initially received 43 applications for the police chief position, according to Rep. Kristi Morris, D-Springfield, who also serves as chair of the Springfield selectboard.
“I was pleased we had a significant number of applicants,” Morris said, acknowledging the difficulty of recruiting law enforcement officers. The town recently began offering $10,000 hiring bonuses for Vermont certified officers, he added, as a way of enticing new recruits.
The town also recently increased certified officers' pay scale, which now varies between $24.09 and $37.71 per hour, depending on experience.
“We recognize that we need to staff up so that we can increase our police presence and have neighborhood patrols,” Morris said.
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