BRATTLEBORO — During a virtual meeting last Tuesday, residents who live in the Southern Avenue, Organ Street, Maple Street neighborhoods pleaded with Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy to do something about trespassers and people rifling through their vehicles.
“It’s been hell,” said Danielle Russo, who spoke about a homeless encampment on town-owned land that abuts private property on Southern Avenue. “And nothing ever gets done.”
Laurie Klenkel told Chief Hardy that people used to like to walk their dogs along Organ Street Extension, but that area has become a location of “unwanted activities,” including campfires and tent sites and trespassers walking through private property.
“It’s unsafe for us,” she said. “We are really disgusted with it.”
The online meeting was arranged by state Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham 2-2, who also lives in the neighborhood.
Klenkel also told Hardy her communications with police dispatch have been disappointing and have usually ended in frustration after receiving excuses such as no officers are available because they are all out on calls or because the department is so short-staffed
“How about a dedicated officer always available to take calls?” suggested Klenkel, who also suggested an online reporting system that is monitored 24/7.
Russo said she is frustrated with individuals with mental health issues who are returned to the streets after being arrested for infractions such as breaking into vehicles or assault.
“It doesn’t make us feel safe having mentally ill people running around our backyards at 3 a.m.,” she said.
Burke noted that in Vermont it is not illegal for someone to enter an unlocked vehicle that does not belong to them as long as they don’t steal anything out of the vehicle.
She said she is hopeful that legislation that was crafted by Nader Hashim, a former legislator from Putney, will be approved in the next legislative session, which starts in January.
Hardy, who has been on the job only two months, said she was amazed to learn that in Vermont such behavior is not illegal. She also noted that she is aware of one individual who is under the supervision of the Vermont Department of Health who has been the cause of much of the unease in the neighborhood. She said she is working with the individual’s family and doctors to find a solution.
Residents in the neighborhood are investing in motion-sensitive lights and surveillance cameras that might help to resolve the issue and Hardy informed them that the police department, if given online access to the cameras, can observe them in real time.
“As the new chief, I am trying to understand what my parameters are as far as Vermont law is concerned,” said Hardy.
She advised those on the call to initiate a petition in support of Hashem’s legislation.
Until such a law is passed, said Hardy, “Anything we can do now is a Band-Aid.”
She also acknowledged the fact that the Brattleboro Police Department is short-staffed, and has been for many years.
Hardy said she is trying her best to hire more officers while working on “strategies to keep these people moving” and not congregating where they can cause problems.
She said she will also speak with the members of dispatch about how they are interacting with the public.
Hardy said, as a new police chief, she still has a lot to learn about Brattleboro and Vermont, but she promised to follow up on all the concerns raised during the virtual meeting.
Nadav Malin thanked Hardy for taking the top cop job in Brattleboro, which he described as “a really white community.”
“Not all communications to you have been positive,” noted Malin, referencing recent hateful communications to Hardy, who is Black and came from New York City after a career with the Port Authority Police Department. “A lot of us are here to help in any way we possibly can.”