'Many, Many, Many Conversations:' Norma Hardy Reflects On New Role As Brattleboro's Police Chief
This week Norma Hardy became Brattleboro’s new police chief, and in doing so she made history. She's the first Black woman to be a police chief in Vermont. She joins the department months after the town released an extensive report recommending significant reforms to local policing. The department also faces a staffing shortage.
Hardy comes to Vermont from New York, where she led the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Norma Hardy, the new police chief of the Brattleboro Police Department. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: So, you're coming to Brattleboro to lead a fairly small police department, at least compared to where you were before with the Port Authority, which had hundreds of officers. Brattleboro has less than 30 when it's fully staffed. I'm curious, why choose Brattleboro?
Norma Hardy: You know, I've been in the area before. I vacationed in the area, and I really liked it when I was here. And just reading about Brattleboro, reading it about the town itself, I just thought that it would be such an honor to be able to be a part of this community, and all of the fantastic things that are going on here.
Particularly the, you know, the knowledge and the taking on of more diversity and inclusion in the community. And I just thought it just would be a great fit for me to come in and help that all get accomplished, and also to be a part of the Brattleboro community.
I want to talk a little bit about some of the reforms that have been proposed in Brattleboro. Back in December, there was a report commissioned by the town, which called for some pretty drastic revamping of how Brattleboro thinks about police services and public safety. It recommended disarming police in some situations, withholding pensions of officers who violate excessive force rules, among many other measures. Do you agree with the authors of the report that those are steps that need to be taken in Brattleboro?
I agree that some steps need to be taken — whether or not it's those particular steps — not necessarily. I'm still, you know, catching up on this report and reading it, and it's going to be many conversations, I'm sure, and many meetings with the community and the boards that wrote this report. And hopefully we can all come to an agreeable common ground with some of the things that they want to accomplish.
I want to read one selection from the report:
“Reckoning with the unconscious and insidious nature of white supremacy and systemic racism is a critical part of transforming our community safety systems and response.”
Do you agree with that statement?
Hmm ... I wouldn't say I really would agree with it wholeheartedly. I may agree with certain parts of that statement. And I do believe that a lot of it is an unconscious situation, unconscious or unaware situation with what's going on today. And I do like the fact and applaud Brattleboro, actually, for trying to address these situations and address this particular problem that is not just here, of course, in Vermont, but you know, across the country.
I mean, coming into this role, do you see reckoning with systemic racism as a part of your job?
Oh, absolutely. Yes, absolutely. It's something that is not just a part of my job. It's a part of all of our jobs. And it's a part of the community's job, too.
I want people in the community to not feel that they are victimized by systemic racism when it comes to my police department. I want them to feel that they can approach my officers and that they are to be protected. And the protection is for all, you know, and that's going to take time. That's going to take conversations. I'm working, you know, with the town manager here, I'm working with people on different boards.
You know, this is only my second day. But, you know, I see many, many, many conversations happening and many, many meetings on things such as the statement you just made.
I want people in the community to not feel that they are victimized by systemic racism when it comes to my police department. I want them to feel that they can approach my officers and that they are to be protected.
As of last month, the Brattleboro Police Department had about 10 vacancies according to some media reports. Is that still the case?
Yes, it is.
OK, and I understand that forced the department to reduce some patrol shifts. What do you see as the solution there in terms of getting to an adequate level of staffing that would allow you to function as you would hope to?
Right now, that's going to be one of my major focuses, is recruiting and retaining the excellent officers that are here. And I find that these officers are highly trained in their job, and they're doing it every day.
And that's one of the things that I absolutely want to point out. The media, particularly, I feel focuses on the negative things with policing that are occurring this day and age, and may have been occurring way before now, of course. It should be put out there. But also, I want people to recognize the men and women that do their job every day with without these incidences, and still are performing their duties and still are protecting the public. You know, that is one of my major focuses.
And also, to have people want to come and join the police department, particularly my police department. So that is one of my focuses, to be out there, to be the face of the Brattleboro Police Department. You know, and I'm a woman, I'm a woman of color. Some people may have never thought that they would want to be on this police department or any police department. So, I think I can be my best advertisement.
Finally, you are the first Black woman to lead a police department in Vermont. In your previous role with the Port Authority police, you were the first female chief of that department. How much do you think about those firsts as you step into a new role?
I’m just astounded, you know. I'm totally honored, of course. I’m honored, but also, you know, why? We're in 2021, and we're still talking about these firsts now. And that's the thing that you have to think about — why? Why has it taken so long?
As I always say, I may be the first, but more than likely not the last. So, if I can, you know, lift some barriers and open some doors for those that are coming up behind me, then that's what I will do.