Eric Nordenson has worked at the Montpelier Police Department for nearly 27 years, starting as a parole officer and working his way up to becoming chief in 2022. Nordenson grew up in Milford, Mass., and, by his own account, has wanted to be a police officer since high school. A series of events — including graduating from Castleton State College in 1997 having studied criminal justice and sociology, and helping out a friend, George Cook, with coaching the girls soccer team at Montpelier High School — led him to Montpelier. The Bridge’s editor-in-chief sat down with Nordenson for an interview earlier this fall.
CH: What are some trends you have observed over the years?
EN: The things we see a lot of are substance abuse, mental health issues — those have been consistent during those 26 years. Homelessness was always an issue, but it felt like our area had the capacity to handle it. As COVID was on the rise, jobs became more difficult or closed, housing became more expensive. … We are seeing an influx of people from different places now because our services are so robust. For a community as small as ours it becomes pretty daunting.
The latest trend is unlocked cars getting things stolen from them. We were seeing keys left in the vehicle. There’s been four to five stolen cars (earlier this fall). The message is to lock your car, make it a little bit more challenging for people. …. We have identified some suspects in this; it’s mostly the transient people that are coming and going.
CH: Are the police seeing more overdose cases or having to use Narcan regularly? (Note to readers: Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, an antidote to opioid drugs)
EN: A hundred percent we’re seeing significant abuse. We used Narcan last night on someone. We administered it to four people at the Econo-Lodge [earlier this fall]. It took 20 doses for all four people. That’s a lot. … Drugs are becoming more potent and more synthetic. It’s a challenge to bring people back, and then when you bring them back, it’s a handful.
We’ve partnered with Turning Point Center (a central Vermont based peer-support recovery center). We go out with Turning Point and offer services, so if we can stop people from doing the drugs that’s great, but I don’t think I’m naïve enough to think it’s the be all and end all.
CH: What challenges, if any, has the rise in homelessness created for the police department?
EN: A day doesn’t go by when we don’t get a request to relocate an encampment, so we do that based on the city policy, but there’s no place for them to go. … These are high-needs people that don’t necessarily fit into the services that are offered currently.
We had three or four people from South Carolina … we are seeing people come from Burlington. The community here is very caring. They help with food; they help with services; they give money, and that word travels very quickly, and people like the way they are treated here. Sometimes it attracts more people, and it overwhelms our services.
CH: Can you provide an update of the shooting incident Oct. 26 on U.S. Route 2 from the homelessness encampment, which hit a school bus? (See The Bridge article “Confirmed: School Bus Gunshot Came from Encampment,” Nov. 1.)
EN: The investigation is still in progress, no arrests have been made and I do not have any additional updates. All of the firearms (confiscated from people in the encampment) are still in the custody of law enforcement.
CH: How many police officers are you budgeted for and how many do you have now?
EN: We are budgeted for 16 police officers. We have 16.
CH: How many do you need?
EN: Probably 19 or 20. (According to a study by the) FBI, the average number of police officers per thousand (should be) 2.4. We also have to take into consideration the demands of the capital city — the demands that are placed under this police department would be best placed with additional police officers.
CH: Tell me about the social worker position shared with Barre that had been vacant for 18 months?
EN: The social worker is Annie Kasper. (She) works three days at MPD and two days at the Barre City Police Department one week and the next week it reverses. She is available to assist with mental health services and rides with officers or assists in dispatch. Annie has been a fine addition to our team and enhances our co-response model we have been using with Washington County Mental Health for many years.
CH: There were reports this summer of people being assaulted on the bike path by an individual potentially with mental health issues. Are you seeing more individuals with mental health issues?
EN: It’s important to have some awareness when you’re on the bike path. You go to any city that has a transit center, that is a typical hub for people experiencing homelessness that have no other place to go. Our transit center happens to be on our bike path. … You need to be aware of your surroundings. We have increased our foot patrol and presence in and around the bike path, especially before school and after school.
CH. Does the state pay the Montpelier Police Department when parades, demonstrations, and events are being held in town or on the Statehouse lawn?
EN: That is a complex question. The Statehouse lawn is controlled by BGS (Buildings and General Services, a department of the state). Any law enforcement services on the lawn are the primary responsibility of the Montpelier Police Department. The Capital police take care of the Statehouse building. They can back us up. There is no additional funding for that. Most of that is in our overtime budget.
CH: I’ve noticed more female officers at MPD lately.
EN: We have 13 males and three females. The gender thing … is a challenge sometimes, but I want good people. You can only deal the hand that you’re dealt if no females or no minorities apply … I’m fortunate that I have some great females here that are great to work with, great in the community. In 1997, there was one female in my class. I think that’s changing a little bit.
CH: Are there any other subjects you would like to discuss?
EN: We were down to 11 cops at one point. To the city’s credit, they recognized a problem. They gave us a nice pay increase that helped attract a much wider range of candidates and they supported our training needs.
Five of my new officers have less than two years on the job. You don’t understand what that means until you have a crisis … so we’ve increased our supervision levels here. We rely now more on sergeants, so we have a higher level of supervision on each shift. I think that helps us deliver a better quality of service — give us a chance to mentor more.
The next phase of that is that a number of us are starting to think (about retiring). Let’s set this place up for the future. The FBI-LEEDA Supervisor Leadership Institute offers three four-and-a-half-day courses. We are working to send all supervisors (there) to prepare for the future of MPD and for staff development. Some of our supervisors have completed all three and others are working towards completing them, so it is a work in progress.
To see what the Montpelier Police Department is doing every day, go to its “media logs” at montpelier-vt.org/Archive.aspx?AMID=39.