A Brief History of The Winooski Police Department – By Steve McQueen
On March 7, 1922 the Village of Winooski Falls became the City of Winooski. Winooski was the commercial and economic center of the Town of Colchester with a vibrant French culture and strong textile industry. After incorporating as an independent City, Winooski continued to have a strong economy and provided a multitude of services to it’s citizens.
The first Winooski Police Chief was Charles Barber. Chief Barber was the Village Police Chief prior to incorporation and was appointed Chief by Winooski’s first Mayor, H. A. Bailey. Chief Barber served the citizens of Winooski for 45 years, 44 of them as its Police Chief from 1912 to 1956 retiring for health reasons at the age of 75.
The first department consisted of the Chief and two “regular” officers, serving a population of 1,932 on a budget of $4317.88. During it’s early years, the department patrolled the City on foot or used their own vehicles. In 1951 the City purchased its first department vehicle, a 1951 Chevrolet.
Over the years the City of Winooski demanded more from its police department. In 1940 the City Council added a full time officer to help serve a population of 6,036. In 1948 the City again added a full time officer and up to 11 special officers. The first organized rank structure was created in 1951. The department consisted of a Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants and a senior officer. During the 1950’s, the department maintained a special police force of 11 special officers, who were supervised by the full time department.
When Chief Barber retired, Capt. Arthur Gay became the City’s second police Chief. Chief Gay died while in office after only two years as Chief. The City’s third chief was Joe Sprano, who joined the department in 1947. Chief Sprano served from 1958 until his resignation in 1964.
Capt. Donald Savard was appointed the City’s fourth, and thrid longest serving Police Chief. Chief Savard saw his department increase from five officers to ten, the purchase of the department’s first radio system in 1966 and the establishment of 24 hour dispatching in 1967, during his tenure. Winooski was a city in transition during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Urban renewal allowed Winooski to start re-building. During this time, the City employed 15 full time officers, 6 of which were funded through the Winooski Community Development Corporation and H.U.D.
In 1977 the City built a new City Hall and Police Department. From 1922 until 1977 the department was located in the basement of the old Congregational Church which was purchased by the City when it was incorporated as its new City Hall. This building served the City well until it’s demolition to make room for the new building.
Chief Savard retired after 26 years with the department, 12 years as it’s Chief. 1976 saw the appointment of Chief Roger Willard. Chief Willard only served Winooski for three years, but brought “modern” policing to the City. He established three divisions within the department and clearly defining the responsibility and authority within each group. Chief Willard established a Detective Division, headed by a Sergeant a Patrol Division, headed by a Sergeant assisted by two Corporals, and an Administrative Division, headed by the department Officer Manager. This management structure continued until 1991 when the Detective Division Commander’s position was eliminated.
Winooski saw several Chiefs come and go from 1976 until 1996. After Chief Willard, the City appointed Chief Anthony Grassano in 1981. Chief Grassano came to Winooski from the City of Wayne New Jersey, where he worked for the police department. Chief Grassano left after three years and Lt. Armand Vallee, a thirteen year veteran of the department was appointed Chief.
Chief Vallee served from 1984 until his retirement in 1990. Lt. Gerald Cowhig, a 14 year veteran, was appointed Police Chief, but only served for one year before leaving for other employment. In November of 1991, Walter Nieliwocki was appointed Police Chief after retiring as a Sergeant with the Connecticut State Police. Chief Nieliwocki served for four years resigning in February of 1996. After serving as Interim Chief, Lt. Steve McQueen, a 13 year veteran of the department was appointed Police Chief in 1996.
Currently sixteen officers, four dispatchers four civilian employees and three Code Enforcement Officers serve the City of Winooski on a full-time basis. The department polices a very diverse community of about 7,500 residents handling over 12,000 calls for service per year. Currently the department provides a minimum of two officer coverage per shift and 24 hour dispatching for the police department and fire department.
The department has several distinct functions in addition to the “normal” patrol activity associated with policing. We have one full-time police officer assigned to the Winooski School District as School Resource Officers and an investigator assigned to family based incidents. Winooski was the first community in Vermont to dedicate officers to school based policing, partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition, a patrol officer is assigned as an Investigator providing follow-up investigation to criminal activity within the City.
The Winooski Community Justice Center was established under the supervision of the police department. The Center began accepting referrals from Vermont District Court and the Winooski Police Department in May 2000. Reparative Boards were formed and trained, using interested Winooski Citizens to act as Board Members. The Community Justice Center was established to provide reparative service to the community, conflict resolution/mediation services to the Winooski Housing Authority, victim services, and supports a 24 hour language line of qualified interpreters. In November of 2004, the Winooski Police Department established an offender re-entry program supervised by the Community Justice Center. In designing a re-entry program, it is our goal that the Winooski Community Justice Center coordinate the provision of a wide range of opportunities for offenders to return to the community as members who, given the chance, hold themselves accountable for their actions, be monitored and provided with supportive services to reduce their recidivism and become productive and responsible members of society.
The department has 1 Deputy Chief of Police, 1 Staff Sergeant (Patrol Division supervisor) 3 Sergeants (shift supervisors) 9 Officers and 3 Code Enforcement officer, who are responsible for the 24 hours policing of the City. They have 5 marked patrol vehicles available for regular patrol and two unmarked vehicles used by the Detectives and Code Enforcement Officers.