Spotlight on Berlin Police Sergeant Chad Bassette
Plus, praise for essential workers
We usually think a new year is going to be better than the previous one. Right? Wrong. At least not the last couple of years. But with all the misfortune caused by the pandemic, which hit Vermont in 2020, some inspiring trends have resulted.
For one thing, people have started appreciating “essential workers.” This includes previously unnoticed grocery store workers. Here in central Vermont, such workers have been real troopers. No matter how understaffed the local store gets, and how cranky customers get, there they are, slicing meat, unloading trucks, ringing up orders, putting items in bags, and asking, “Did you find everything you need?” NICE WORK.
Also, a special shout out to healthcare workers — particularly those standing in that little temporary pop-up hut out behind Burger King on the Barre-Montpelier Road, who, in freezing temperatures behind a mere plastic flap, hand out long cotton swabs and a tube for COVID-19 testing. THANK YOU.
And a major expression of appreciation for our school workers who transport students, supervise them in the halls, organize their COVID-19 tests, serve them lunch, and clean all surfaces so teachers can teach in the classroom. GREAT JOB.
But there also are previously unrecognized workers out there who, year after year, show unimaginable kindness. I mean the type of kindness most people would not consider. The type of kindness that involves wet, muddy footwear and a cold shoulder. This leads to thoughts about the Berlin Police Department’s Sgt. Chad Bassette. Bassette does work that exceeds going “above and beyond” by a long shot.
“We are placed in this world for a reason,” Bassette told The Bridge by phone in the week leading up to Christmas. “Because of my job I may be able to see the great need that is out there. The unsheltered … I am at the right spot at the right time to help someone in need.”
Bassette believes his calling to serve in the law enforcement profession puts him in a place where he has more opportunities to help people than he could as an ordinary citizen.
“We come across people on a daily basis who need help,” he said.
Bassette talked about a recent encounter with a person in crisis. The person was experiencing agitation rising to the level of involvement with Washington County Mental Health. The event also triggered involvement with the Berlin Police Department. And putting the person over the top was that he wanted to buy a gift for someone and did not have money. So Bassette took him to Walmart and bought the gift with money from his own pocket. “He was stressing over the need to get someone a present, but he is overwhelmed with child support … with rent. There is that need.” The person seemed like he might have been in real trouble if not for the help, as Bassette describes it. “Would he have hurt himself? Would he have hurt someone else?”
Bassette further notes that sometimes all people need is for someone to listen and to show an interest in their life. There are a lot of unsheltered individuals who are living outside, he notes, but not all are asking for money. Some of them won’t take anything. “You walk into the encampments and you want to give them the shirt off your back, but they won’t take it because they just want to live life alone.” Bassette spoke of a person living in Berlin for whom Bassette brought new boots for the winter, but that person refused to take them. Bassette left the boots anyway and departed. The next time he visited the encampment, Bassette noticed the boots had been worn.
Bassette says he tries not to post about his activities too often on social media so it doesn’t appear he is doing it all for a pat on the back. He never asks for donations. However, if people drop off donations, such as bags of clean socks or supplies, Bassette will quickly deliver them to those in need.
And who does Bassette thank for supporting his ability to help so many people? Coworkers and his wife, Shelly. “I have a very good wife.” Bassette says she allows him to spend money and use space in their house for knit hats, boots, mittens, and all manner of items. Sometimes he hears of a closeout at a local store and, rather than have them throw out a quantity of useful items — such as hand warmers — Bassette will give them pennies on the dollar from his own pocket. He and his wife go to thrift stores and yard sales to search for useful items. He gets a lot of stuff from flea markets and the Salvation Army when he has any money left over after paying bills. He keeps items in the office and at home.
Bassette says coworkers are getting more tolerant of his ways lately, too. They used to complain about his proclivity for filling the office with boxes of stuff, but now, especially since he has experienced illness (three strokes and most recently, cancer), his coworkers have changed their attitudes.
“I have a great bunch of officers who support what I do,” he said. And when a donor stopped by the department the other day to drop off a bunch of toys, Bassette made sure to quickly get them out of the office to those in need.
Even when he is not on duty, Bassette is thinking of others. People with no food, no diapers … people who can’t afford medication.
Bassette says he knows what it is like to struggle. At one time, he lived in Rutland, so far from his first law enforcement job in St. Albans that he couldn’t afford the gas to drive back and forth everyday. So he regularly slept in his car. He had relatives from whom he could borrow money, but, as much as he needed it, he was too proud to do so. Now he lives in Williamstown, which borders Berlin.
“This is my path in life. All cops aren’t bad,” he said. “I am a human first. I am a person first who just happens to be an officer.”
So if the past couple of years have taught us nothing else, they have taught us to value people in the background. We newly appreciate the ability to get toilet paper at the grocery store, to get tested for COVID-19, to send our kids to school. Most of all, we need to appreciate all those people out there who take care of us all year round, whether we like it or not.
Happy New Year.