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Chief Norma Hardy - VERMONT: A Love Story




Having recently arrived in Brattleboro, the new Chief of Police in Brattleboro was asked for help by a desperately worried mother. Her child was being bullied in school, could the Chief help?

Norma Hardy, the Chief, sought out the Director of the Brattleboro Library, Starr Latronica. Why? The literate and very goodhearted Chief believes in the power of books. “Books are a tool to reach someone,” she said.

The two women collaborated, gathered kids’ books to give tools to the child, as well as history books and books for the Mom to support her efforts. Books on strong women, and how to handle being bullied. The Chief and The Librarian partnered in a story worthy of its own children’s book. This struck me as an unusual, personal touch from a chief of police.

Chief Norma Hardy is, as Starr puts it, “A good egg.”

The Chief brings her caring to almost every aspect of her job, is hands-on, involved and enthusiastic. As a result, the community and her team clearly appreciate and respect her.

With a most impressive, very powerful resume, Norma Hardy came to Brattleboro, Vermont with decades of police experience at the New York Port Authority, including the World Trade Center, during the bombing and after 9/11.

Many years ago, Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York was one of the scariest places one ever encountered. Shabby, furious people confronted travelers, shoving paper cups in their faces, yelling, grabbing, looking for money.

And one never ever dared use the restrooms. You didn’t go into bathrooms, because you feared what might await. It was like the stuff bad movies were made of. Port Authority Bus Terminal is where Chief Hardy worked at about that time. It’s since been cleaned up, but she worked there back then as a young police officer. After years of extreme experience, working in a city of millions, she is now the Chief of Brattleboro police.

One of her detectives told me, “We got so lucky. Lucky to get someone of her caliber with her charisma and her ability to communicate with people, along with her amazing level of experience from all her years in service.”

“And thinking of what it must have been like to be a black woman coming up through the ranks in transit police in the 80s and 90s, I can only imagine how difficult that was. And working through both incidents at the World Trade Center? She’s awe-inspiring.”

Norma Hardy joined the New York City Port Authority police force and stayed there for almost 27 years. She also ran the security detail for the 2008 Pope’s visit to New York. Clearly, she is a woman of spine and intelligence.

She became the first black female inspector, the highest rank that any woman had gone in the Port Authority at that time. In 2013, she became the first woman chief appointed by the police department.

So, given such lofty achievements, I asked her, what do you like about being in Vermont?

“I like that people here want to help others so much. I like that ‘Vermont thing’ of wanting to reach across the table and say, ‘Hey, let me help you out’.”

“I think many of us become police or firefighters out of a strong wish to help others.”

What do you think you have given to Vermont so far?

The Chief answered, “I bring a different perspective. And, I’m rather blunt. I pride myself in being able to be straightforward, I think that we can disagree with each other and not be disrespectful.”

And, importantly, “I bring understanding. I was raised by a single parent. I’ve been homeless. You know, struggling. And I’ve survived being in a building when a bomb went off.”

“I’ve been through a lot of the challenges that people in the community have to go through, which I think gives me a whole different perspective on things.”

That understanding, that sense of “She has walked in my shoes,” seems to make it possible for her to relate to the wide range of different people, her team, her community.

About Brattleboro:

“I felt very welcomed here. I think that’s the biggest thing. I feel very supported. Way more than I expected.”

“I think that this is one of the most fantastic police departments I’ve ever seen. I’m not just saying it because ‘Oh, it’s my department.’ My main focus? That my officers feel valued, their morale is up and they are accepted as a part of the community.”

But I was also curious about the person, not just the Police Chief. I asked the Executive Director of the Brattleboro Boys and Girls Club, Michelle Simpson, ‘What do you think of Norma?’

Simpson’s enthusiasm was clear and unfiltered; “She has a wonderful, authentic interest in youth and helping them feel safe and empowered. I see that in what she’s done, like honoring a young man who saved his family from a burning house. They gave him a special citation at the police station. You cannot underestimate the impact on a child’s life of recognition and acknowledgement.”

“It’s just the most important thing you can do. And that’s something that young person will carry with them all their life. Norma drops by, like once a week, just to see how things are going, to find out

what our concerns are. She wants to make sure that everybody knows that the police

are fellow community members, they are mothers and fathers who live here and work here as well.”

The detectives said that they like having such a strong leader. “She clearly wants to see us succeed. I trust and appreciate her approach to things, she’s very down to earth.”

This is what Norma always says: “Open hearts, Open minds.”

Norma Hardy is a collaborator, a woman with a sense of humor, an extraordinary listener, and a strong leader. She is patient and generous.

And she deeply and obviously cares about young people.

In short? She is a most welcome addition to Brattleboro, Vermont.

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