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A Ride Along With The Sheriff Of Essex County

Two men in white t-shirts chat through a rolled-down window of a police cruiser to a uniformed officer.
Erica Heilman
Sheriff of Essex County Trevor Colby chats with Steve Russo and his son, also Steve Russo, in Brunswick during a ride along with independent producer Erica Heilman.

Essex County is bordered by Canada to the north and New Hampshire to the east. Independent producer Erica Heilman spent a day with Sheriff Trevor Colby, talking about what it’s like to do law enforcement in one of the most rural and least populated counties in the state. 

Trevor Colby: “So before we start, what I wanted to tell you is, that I need you to sign a consent form to ride along, so that if I kill you, then you can’t sue the Sheriff’s Office. Understandable?” 

Me: “Yeah.” 

Trevor: “You’re in agreement with that?” 

Me: “I’m good with that.”  

That’s Trevor Colby, Sheriff of Essex County. Trevor’s father was the Sheriff of Essex County, back when there wasn’t a sheriff’s office. When calls came in during dinner, Trevor would go out with his dad to back him up. Times have changed. Now there’s an office.  

In the truck

Trevor: “That’s my aunt’s. That was my grandmother’s. The white house is my folks’. This is my great aunt’s. The store is run by my cousins. This is the church where my grandmother used to go to church, and she used to sing there. My family was there. That’s the church I was married in.” 

Me: “So you’re essentially presiding over your own relatives.” 

Trevor: “Yes and no. Essex County’s much larger than that.” 

Essex County is big and rural and there are no police barracks, so the county receives public safety money to do law enforcement that the state would otherwise do. And since Trevor grew up here, and seems to be related to half the county, this means relationships can become complicated.

Me: "What is the nature of crime here in Essex County?"

A man in glasses and a police uniform inside a car.
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
Meet Trevor Colby, the Sheriff of Essex County who happens to have a lot of relatives in his coverage area.

Trevor: “It’s nothing you can really put your finger on. It changes from year to year. Domestic violence is always in the background. Child abuse. Domestic violence. Those are some of the big things that are behind the scenes. Burglaries, you know, property crimes.

“This whole area has been really hit with copper crimes and theft of metal. Cutting metal out of people’s houses. Second homes. Stores. So that can only go on so long until everyone’s got plastic pipes in their house.

“But as you go up through here, in the last five minutes, we’ve driven by two homicides, one suicide, one suspected – it looked like an accidental death, but it’s questionable. Several drugs houses. Actually I’d add a suicide to that, at a separate house. In just those last couple minutes.” 

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Me: “So we’re driving by all these places that people’s homes -- that are these very private institutions. Who knows what goes on in somebody else’s family. It’s a very private institution, right? A family. And you periodically have access to this really private place, so when you’re driving along, you can see inside the houses.” 

Trevor: “You’re completely embedded in other people’s lives when you do this job. You understand a lot of the dynamics of what are going on.”  

Me: “I’m sure there are people you’ve gone to school with who you have to investigate.” 

Trevor: “Every little situation here, just in the few years I’ve been here, does weigh on you because you know the people and then you know the story, right?”  

In the store

Trevor again: “So the most important part of being a police officer? Know where the bathrooms are and know where the good food is. OK? That’s what I train every guy. Because you never know when you’re out here, you always want to use the bathroom, and you always want to get your snacks.”  

We went in Debanville’s General Store in Bloomfield.

Trevor: “We picked a bad day to come. There’s a lot of criminals around here.”  

Inside, we ran into Patrick Carr, one of Trevor’s deputies.

Patrick Carr: “I grew up here and it’s a different way to do law enforcement. I work in New Hampshire, that’s my fulltime job, and it’s very different over here. More personal. The relationship between law enforcement and people have to last a lot longer.”  

Me: “What do you mean, why?”  

Patrick: “The state trooper who rolls into town, does his business, he just has a law to enforce. And this is not every case, this is just, you know, kind of a generalization. So the heart doesn’t have to be there, the mind is only have to set in that professional manner and stuff. And they’re in and out, and they’re gone. The likeliness they deal with the people over and over again is very slim."

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Trevor: “You know you’re going to see them every day. You know we’re going to see each other at the grocery store, and I’m going to see you at the kids’ soccer game. And now that I’ve said to you, ‘You can’t keep fighting over these drugs, you can’t keep selling drugs. You’ve gotta get off this.’ That’s what I can’t get away from as a police officer. You can’t get out of that one.”

Cash register woman: “$1.75.”  

Trevor: “Usually she’s not this nice to me.”  

Cash register woman: “Oh stop it. I’m nice to everyone Trevor and you know it.” 

Trevor: “I’ll see you later.”  

Cash register woman: “Have a good day.” 

In Brunswick

We got back in the truck and drove some more through Bloomfield and Ferdinand, and somewhere inside the Brunswick line, Trevor pulled into the driveway of a small farm right on Route 102. 

Trevor: “Hey, what are you doing!?”

This is Steve Russo and his son, Steve Russo.  

Steve Russo Sr.: “They told me I was selling a product out of my barn. They told me everybody who’s not in land use or has a business gets taxed non-residential, so they taxed me non-residential, ‘cause I’m not in land use.”  

Trevor: “I never heard of that.” 

Steve Sr: “Mmhmm.” 

Steve Russo Jr.: “Well if we can’t, we’re gonna get taxed non-residential which is a higher tax bracket.“

Trevor: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve solved that problem for you like that.” 

Steve Sr.: “What you gonna do? Shoot somebody?”  

Trevor: “Nope. I would’ve told you just move into the barn. Then you’re selling it out of the house instead of out of the barn. Your wife would’ve been happy and you would’ve solved the problem. Alright, we’ll see you guys later.” 

Trevor and I drove back to Guildhall, past picture-postcard scenes of rolling hills and rivers, talking about murder and domestic abuse and suicide, and waving at passing cars. 

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Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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