By Guy Page
Vermont state police are less likely than they once were to stop freeway speeders, unless they’re traveling at almost 90 MPH or engaging in other dangerous activity, the senior uniformed state police officer said last week. Last week, he and Gov. Phil Scott explained why: more crime, faster cars, and fewer cops.
“When you have speeds that are 90 to 100 miles per hour routinely we are going to target those vehicles that are driving before we are targeting 78 or 80 miles per hour,” State Police Commander Col. Matthew Birmingham said at last week’s press conference.
Reported speeding stops this weekend illustrate the new reality. State police reported two drivers stopped – both men from out-of-state – for speeding on the Interstate. Both were driving over 100 MPH on I-91.
Nagachaitanya Kasarla, 32, of Hartford, CT was clocked driving a Dodge Charter at 108 mph in a 65 mph zone, around 1:26 p.m. Sunday. Charles Putnam, 48 of Canaan, NH was pulled over for driving 101 MPH. Both must appear in court to face negligent driving charges, as well as pay a hefty speeding ticket.
As readers of the Chronicle’s Monday roundup of weekend police reports know, getting stopped for driving more than 100 MPH on Vermont highways occurs fairly often. In fact, few freeway speed-related traffic stops happen for under 90 MPH, at least as reported in police press releases.
The press has noticed. At a press conference last week, Reporter James Dwinell asked Gov. Scott why the actual pullover speeding limit seems to have increased.
“This is about resources, we can’t pull every single speeder over and use resources that should be going to other areas and investigate deaths and other horrific things that are happening in Vermont,” Scott replied.
When Dwinell noted that “10 years ago I could go by a state trooper at 78 and get pulled over,” Scott answered, “10 years ago we didn’t have the level of crime we have now.”
Then, as he often does, Scott asked his administration expert to provide more information. Up to the microphone stepped Birmingham.
The speed limit is 65 MPH and “there is no magic speed you get to go before you are stopped,” Birmingham said. But staffing shortages have forced state police to prioritize traffic stops, he conceded.
“Given the fact that we have a 15 percent vacancy rate right now, we have 51 sworn positions that are not filled, we have had to reallocate resources, uniform resources to investigate homicides, and there just are not enough out there to enforce the speed all the time,” Birmingham said.
“Because of our limited resources, we are targeting the most dangerous and aggressive drivers on the road,” Birmingham said. “We are targeting people weaving in and out of traffic, that are operating dangerously, using their cellphones while they are driving faster, that are impaired. When you have speeds that are 90 to 100 miles per hour routinely we are going to target those vehicles that are driving before we are targeting 78 or 80 miles per hour, becuase they are putting other people’s lives at risk on the interstate.”
Both Birmingham and Scott noted that cars are faster and roads are built for faster cars. “You are seeing higher speeds across the country. This is a national problem,” the state’s top uniformed cop said.