BRATTLEBORO — Officer Ryan Washburn, who's been with the Brattleboro Police Department since 2010, was recently nominated as Vermont American Legion Officer of the Year 2018. While he didn't receive top honors, he did get a letter of commendation from the Legion.
"It's pretty awesome," he said. "I'm pretty excited about it."
Washburn told the Reformer on Monday that after he graduated high school, he didn't plan on getting into law enforcement.
"But my grandfather, Lawrence Washburn, was in the Vermont State Police for 35 years; it's kind of a legacy thing."
To be considered for the American Legion award, a police officer should be "a well-rounded law enforcement officer who has exceeded the duty requirements expected of his or her position and has demonstrated a distinct pattern of community service coupled with professional achievement."
Washburn served in the U.S. Navy from 2005 to 2009. He was nominated for the award by Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald.
"Officer Washburn's dedication to duty goes far beyond traditional law enforcement work," wrote Fitzgerald. "He coordinates the department's Coffee-with-a-Cop program. This quarterly event brings department staff and citizens together in a comfortable, non-adversarial environment to discuss issues of the day."
In addition, wrote Fitzgerald, Washburn is also an original member of the Brattleboro Bigs-in-Blue program, a subsidiary of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Washburn, who served as detective for three years before returning as a patrol supervisor, is a certified field training officer and death investigator and has taken the lead in sharing information between the department and the Vermont Drug Task Force, noted Fitzgerald.
"Officer Washburn's contributions to the Brattleboro community have been significant and have a daily, positive impact on the quality of life here," wrote Fitzgerald.
Washburn grew up Dummerston and graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in 2003. He bummed around a for a couple of years before enlisting in the Navy as a master-at-arms, the Navy's version of military police. After finishing boot camp and training, he was assigned to the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay before being stationed for three years at Rota Naval Station in Spain.
"I almost re-upped," he said. "I was this close and changed my mind at the last second. I was thinking about the future and I wanted to be closer to my family."
His dad, David Washburn, lives in Chesterfield, N.H., and his mom, April Waterman, lives in Dummerston. Washburn is married to Sarah, and they have an 8-month-old boy.
After his discharge from the Navy, Washburn returned to Vermont and worked as an officer with the Wilmington Police Department before moving back to Brattleboro two-and-a-half years later.
"Having grown up here, I knew a lot of people here and I had friends on the force," said Washburn, now 33.
He said he's never regretted his decision to return to Brattleboro.
"I've been pretty happy here. The leadership is awesome. I plan on staying here. I like the direction the leadership is going."
Washburn likes the emphasis the Brattleboro Police Department places on de-escalation techniques.
"The older policing style doesn't work as well. As with any job, you've got to evolve. Obviously, depending on the circumstance, you might need to use force immediately, but the first thing I try to do when I get to a scene is calm people down."
He admitted that some people need a little "tough talk" to calm down, but most people just need "quiet talk" and encouragement. "You have to learn to pick up on that stuff."
As with most police officers, Washburn said the most heartbreaking calls for him are those that involve children. "Whether it's violence, homelessness or they're hungry, it's always tough. Even before the birth of my own child, it was always hard to see a child in need."
But he also knows that a kind word can make all the difference in a person's life.
"A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a young lady while she was in the holding cell, just talking," he said. "A while later I received a note that said the chat meant a lot to her, that it changed her life. That meant a lot to me."
After three years as a detective (the role of detective in the Brattleboro Police Department is a three-year position), Washburn said he is happy being back on patrol, meeting with people every day.
"For the most part, this community is very respectful."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.