BRATTLEBORO — Norma Hardy will bring 26 years of law enforcement experience to the Brattleboro Police Department when she starts this week.
“I cannot even express how excited I am,” she said. “I am so excited and ready to get started. I can’t wait to dive in.”
Hardy, who is the first female and Black person to be police chief in Brattleboro, will begin Wednesday. Town Manager Peter Elwell made the appointment after interviewing “a strong field of 23 applicants,” according to a statement.
“Hardy had a distinguished 26-year career with the Police Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,” the statement says.
Hardy served as a police officer at various Port Authority facilities for 10 years, getting promoted to construction sergeant at the World Trade Center site in 2002, to executive officer at the World Trade Center site in 2006, to police captain and commanding officer at the Holland and Lincoln tunnels in 2008, to police inspector and northern zone commander in 2011, and to chief of Port Authority Bridges, Tunnels, and New Jersey Airports in 2013. She received numerous internal commendations and external awards during her career with the Port Authority, including the 2014 Officer of the Year Award from the International Association of Women Police and the 2016 Trailblazer Award from the National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement.
Hardy attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and completed advanced training in law enforcement leadership, personnel and finance administration, security assessment and emergency response management. She also does a lot of mentoring and talks with law enforcement officers and students.
Elwell and a selection panel conducted interviews via Zoom with seven applicants, then held more in-depth interviews using the teleconferencing software with four semifinalists, according to the town’s statement. Two finalists had in-person meetings with the Select Board, town department heads, Brattleboro Police Department employees and Elwell.
The town manager said he selected Hardy in mid-June, and the town completed “a thorough background check” before finalizing the terms of her appointment and employment.
Elwell described being “eager to begin working with Hardy” as chief and member of the town’s senior management team.
“Chief Hardy brings to Brattleboro a wealth of law enforcement leadership experience and a demonstrated commitment to work with the community on recalibrating the roles and expectations of the police and our civilian community partners,” Elwell said in the statement. “She also brings lived experience outside of law enforcement that will help advance the town’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion.”
In the statement, Hardy said she most looks forward to “working with Brattleboro’s experienced police officers and engaged community members because the key to achieving community safety is collaboration and mutual respect.”
“I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Chief Hardy to the department, and I wish her the best of luck,” said Capt. Mark Carignan.
Carignan served as interim chief since Michael Fitzgerald retired in January. Fitzgerald had been with the department for 21 years and was chief for about six years.
On Monday, Hardy was in the process of moving from Virginia. She said she had been mentoring and speaking when she saw the opportunity in Brattleboro.
“We love Vermont,” she said, having vacationed in Dover a few times. “We just fell in love with it. We were married in Springfield.”
Hardy said she plans to work on police retention, a big issue not just in Brattleboro but around the country. The local department has 16 officers and is authorized for 27.
“I would like to put my head together with Peter and folks to try to find solutions,” Hardy said, hoping to bring back morale and make sure all officers have free time to lead healthy lives.
The town hired two facilitators in September to lead a community safety review that included feedback from more than 200 community members and 25 organizations via surveys, public forums and private listening sessions. A report released in January urged action on a series of items intended to improve local policing.
“It would be a great disservice and cause further harm to those who so bravely and vulnerably shared their stories, many of which invoke deep pain, fear and trauma, for this review process not to materialize actual change,” Emily Megas-Russell and Shea Witzberger, the facilitators, wrote in the 224-page document. “Our community eagerly awaits the opportunity to explore what is possible in our town, and to get to work making it happen in ways that honor and build on the legacy of this process.”
The document advocates for greater accountability by reforming the Police Department’s complaint system, acknowledging systemic racism, strengthening support networks or structures, looking at how to help meet people’s basic needs and reducing the size of the police for over time.
Growing up in New York City and traveling to different parts of the world, Hardy said she noticed she would be stopped just for driving through a town and an officer would not be able to say why.
“I like to talk about those things and try to bridge those gaps between the public and the police,” she said. “That we’re there for public service, not to harass. We’re here to protect also.”
Hardy said she would like to sit down and discuss the report with the facilitators and Community Safety Review Committee members. Some of the items are “quite doable and reasonable,” she said.
“I think some of them may not be but maybe just not as they are written,” she said.
Town officials have publicly acknowledged the need to take on systemic racism. And following a recommendation in the report, the Select Board decided against increasing funding for training as proposed by town staff, so that needs could be further assessed, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities could be involved in future training.
The report recommends eliminating the police social worker liaison program, because it is “not having the desired impact. The funding for this program [which does not come from the town] could be better utilized if decoupled from policing and coercive crisis interventions.”
The report suggests a deep review of Project CARE (Community Approach to Recovery and Engagement) and moving funding to another group outside of the Police Department for the program after professionals from local organizations expressed concern about its mission, data collection, conflicts of interest and harm. With help from Turning Point of Windham County and Groundworks Collaborative, officers steer individuals toward treatment for substance use.
The report calls for the department to “deeply analyze” racial disparities in traffic stops. They suggest reviewing all arrests and searches of drivers from 2014 to 2019, the period of a study by professors at University of Vermont and Cornell University that suggests Black drivers in Brattleboro are “overstopped” 31 to 60 percent more than white drivers. Black drivers are 4.8 times more likely to be arrested and nine times more likely to be searched than white drivers, and when Black drivers are searched they are 30 percent less likely to have contraband than white drivers, according to the study.
The report also advocates for adopting Brattleboro Common Sense’s Sensible Alternatives to Fatal Escalation Policing Plan, a proposal aimed at eliminating firearms from routine police patrols and most other calls. The hope is to increase public safety by preventing “accidental and hasty use of firearms by police, and to increase the safety of police officers, who become pre-emptive targets by carrying lethal weapons,” the report states.
Select Board Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said, having been a part of the search process, she can say “Hardy is the best of a very fine group of professionals and she will be an asset to our police force and to all of us in the town of Brattleboro. I look forward to working with her.”
Select Board member Tim Wessel said when the board interviewed Hardy, he was “immediately struck by her pose, strength and experience.”
“I think our town manager has made an excellent choice, and I look forward to getting to know and work with our new chief of the Brattleboro Police Department,” Wessel wrote on Facebook.
Other important jobs also will need to be filled. The town is still in the process of finding a finance director after the previous jobholder did not pass a probationary period in September, and an ad was recently posted in search for Elwell’s successor as he is set to retire at the end of the year.