Prior to 1947, Vermont law enforcement was primarily county based. Each of the state’s fourteen counties had an elected sheriff responsible for providing all law enforcement services to towns in the county without their own police departments.
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.
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 certain 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 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 Legislature. It was not to be. 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.