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Hartford Police Hope To Build Bridges With Academy

A few years ago, the Upper Valley town of Hartford was criticized for what some saw as overly aggressive law enforcement. The new Public Safety Director is trying to restore respect, so the police department is offering a nine-week academy for citizens who want to learn about how police do their jobs.

Students will not get real badges or guns at the end—just certificates. But town officials hope this laypersons’ academy will at least forge closer ties between residents and local law enforcers.

A little after six  on a warm fall evening, Public Safety Director Steve Locke, a former firefighter,  greeted about 25 students of all ages sitting at desks in the police department’s training room. Locke acknowledged that there have been, quote, some “tough cases” but promised that the Hartford PD is changing for the better.

Locke said police don’t always get the thanks and credit given to firefighters.

“The police industry is completely different, they stop Mrs. Smith out beside the road, they give her a written warning, tell her, ‘please arrive where you go safely we want you to arrive there safely and alive,’ and I get a written complaint that ‘the officer stopped me and gave me a written warning for speeding.’ So I have realized. Rule Number One.  Police work. There is no win,” Locke told them.

And, instructors warned, there IS danger.

Sergeant Dennis Coughlin showed Youtube clips of real traffic stops that turned unpredictably violent. Coughlin said that he works long hours, misses most holidays, and earns relatively low pay. And he said his profession is nothing like what viewers see on TV cop shows.

Real crimes are never solved, he pointed out, in an hour.

“It’s a tough job, it takes a lot on the body and ultimately your sleep patterns are always disrupted, it’s not an easy job and it’s not for everybody, and for the people that do decide to get into law enforcement or even emergency services, it’s not only a career, it’s a lifestyle,” Coughlin said.

So why would anybody want to do it? one middle-aged student asked.

“It’s a rewarding job,” Coughlin answered, “just not for everybody.”  

That reply appealed to Graison Geno, of Brattleboro, who is considering a police career. He wasn’t scared off by the violent film clips because he views himself as young and tough enough to handle it.

“I’ve seen it a lot, I’ve done my own research and the only thing I can say is ‘young male syndrome,’” he said with a smile.

Geno’s father, a firefighter who came with him to class, figures there are worse “young male syndromes,” and says he wouldn’t mind if his son becomes policeman. He hopes the course will satisfy the curiosity of older students and help younger ones decide if they want more formal training in law enforcement.

A representative from the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council  told the group that there are vacancies in the field.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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