PUTNEY >> After six years of serving Putney as a patrol officer for the Windham County Sheriff's Department, Deputy Melissa Evans will transition to a supervisory role in Vernon.
But for Evans this change is bittersweet, as Putney was where she launched her law enforcement experience and became attached to the community.
"There's not just one person I want to thank, but instead everyone in town," said Evans. "They helped me become a better law enforcement officer and person."
Evans, 39, is originally from Birmingham, Ala., and came to New England in 1998. She took online classes through Grand Canyon University where she earned her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a masters in psychology. It was not until 2009 that she landed a job at the Windham County Sheriff's Office. Evans is an EMT and worked closely with the Putney Fire Department during the time that she worked in town. However, Evans said she initially was a bit anxious to start working in Putney, for various reasons.
"I had to be told how to get to Putney, I had no prior law enforcement experience and I heard they were going to be reluctant to having law enforcement," she recalled. "I was worried that I would not be embraced well."
According to Evans, her first day was spent learning the roads in town. After that she was welcomed and comfortable around the people who would often greet and thank her as well as share their concerns.
"It didn't take long for me to settle in and love the work and community," said Evans.
As much as she grew to enjoy the community, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark notified Evans at the end of January that she would be relocated to Vernon as a supervisor. Clark made the official announcement at the Putney Selectboard meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
Clark explained a host of reasons as to why this change would occur, including the advancement of her career. Evans will be supervising four other officers who are in Vernon. Evans said much of her role in Vernon will now entail administration work.
"I think I can honestly say that I think Melissa is a huge asset to our town and I think many would agree," said Billy Straus, Emmy Award winning music producer and songwriter, EMT and co-founder and board member of Next Stage and local to Putney.
According to the meeting minutes, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard expressed her disappointment with the communication that came along with this news.
"Sheriff Clark must have known for quite some time that this had been coming and we just learned on Monday from Melissa about this change," stated in the meeting minutes. "We would have appreciated a heads up and the Sheriff apologized for the lack of communication."
Deputy Josh Parro will replaced Evans on Monday, Feb. 15 and according to Clark he has the same amount of training that Evans had when she first started in Putney. At the meeting Clark explained that this was "not an easy decision" to make but they felt it was best for Evans and for Putney.
"I will help Parro as much as I can so that he understands the community," said Evans, adding that recently she and Parro went to Landmark College where she introduced him to the vice president as well as security.
Evans said she will miss everything about Putney and she reflected on some highlights during her career there. She spent a large portion of her time Santa's Land investigation and she said, "a lot of heart went into it." One aspect of that process that stood out to her was when locals volunteered to donate hay and feed the deer that were still on site.
"It wasn't the state, it was people from the public who stepped in which was a really big deal," said Evans. "It just reminded me that with everything you see going on in the world, it gave me a lot of faith in this town. Knowing they would spend a lot of time on something where there was no reimbursement."
Evans said she has learned a lot about people through her experiences in working in Putney. She said she became less judgemental about people.
"You get to learn that people make bad decisions, when you sit and talk to them, you realize they're not a bad person," she said.
She emphasized that she found her background in psychology helped her with the work in Putney and that one-on-one interactions were most beneficial in seeing a positive change.
Evans said she is sad to leave Putney, and hopes that she can have a positive experience in Vernon. She is looking forward to meeting new people, being able to mentor others, and passing on the meaning of community. Though she will be stationed elsewhere, she wanted to reassure residents that she will live in Putney and will continue try and be part of that community.
"Law enforcement can only be as strong as the community," said Evans. "Basically community is what makes it work. If you're accepted and respected as a person and not just as an authority, then you do really well. It's really important to have the right fit for any community."