A bad decision revisited: Does Windsor need a PD?

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Nineteen years ago, candidates for Town Council in Windsor were actively debating whether the town should create its own police department.

Ultimately, the town did, but the internal debate probably should have continued a bit longer.

In 2015, Windsor’s second police chief was fired after being indicted for embezzlement of town funds. He later pleaded guilty to two felonies involving misuse of those funds.

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Now, the town’s police department has put Windsor on the national map with the incredible performance of two officers turning what should have been a routine traffic stop on U.S. 460 into a life-threatening encounter with an African-American Army lieutenant.

Watching the video in which 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario is stopped by Officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez is a painful experience. Nazario told the officers he was “honestly afraid to get out” of his vehicle with two guns being waved at him. Watching what happened, that reaction is totally understandable. Gutierrez’s actions, in particular, are so far out of bounds as to be frightening to anyone watching the video, much less to the Army lieutenant who was stopped. In fact, Gutierrez told Nazario he “should be” frightened.

Nazario was alternately told to keep both hands in sight and to unfasten his seatbelt, a physical impossibility. The man clearly didn’t know what to do. He was pepper-sprayed, dragged from his SUV, forced to the ground, handcuffed and then released without charges being filed, with Gutierrez telling him he would hate for the incident to hurt Nazario’s career.

Gutierrez, who seems to have been the most out-of-control during the encounter, has been fired, but not until four months had elapsed from the Dec. 5 incident and not until body cam video of the encounter had become a national scandal.

Nazario has since filed a civil rights suit against the officers.

Windsor’s Town Council members have now closed ranks behind their very thin blue line, vowing to continue supporting their tiny police department. The town’s police chief and town manager likewise have expressed support for the second officer, the one who initially made the traffic stop.

In the town’s view, the case is closed.

Underlying all this is a simple question. Why does Windsor feel it needs a police department? There’s absolutely nothing in law or state policy that requires a town to fund its own police department, so why must the taxpayers of Windsor pay for one?

Windsor has four square miles of land and 2,700 residents. With the exception of traffic on U.S. 460, there’s little day-to-day activity in the town that would require policing, yet Windsor taxpayers are underwriting the cost of a police department with seven full-time officers. The cost to taxpayers this year is $634,000 for operations and another $35,000 in capital costs. That’s a third of the town’s $1.9 million annual budget, a cost of about $250 per resident.

Isle of Wight County, under Sheriff James Clark and his predecessor, Mark Marshall, has developed a professional force of deputies fully capable of managing problems in Windsor. If the town were to offer to fund three to four deputies at a cost of less than half what it’s spending now for a full-time department, it’s quite likely that the county would be more than happy to provide police coverage to the town.

About the only justification for keeping a police department in a town the size of Windsor is bragging rights, and after the Dec. 5 incident, there’s not a lot to brag about.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.