You might have noticed a few more police officers out patrolling Burlington streets this month. While foot patrols aren't new, Burlington's police Chief Brandon del Pozo increased the number of them at the beginning of May.
On a recent Saturday evening, Corporal Jesse Namdar of the Burlington Police walked down North Street, nodding and smiling at people as they went by. Some returned the gesture, others simply continued on their way.
Audio for this piece will be available by approximately 11 a.m. Monday, May 23.
Namdar remarked that even though it was pretty warm Saturday night, things were pretty quiet.
A man walked by and said a quiet hello, which Namdar brightly returned.
"Earlier, that gentleman asked me if I had caught any villains," Namdar said with a smile. "I have not caught any villains, but the night is young."
The bulk of Namdar's patrol consists of these small interactions: A quick hello or smile, maybe a little bit of small talk. But, she said, these are important components of being on foot patrol. It's about building relationships with people in the community.
"People learn your name, you learn their names," Namdar said. "I think they become more comfortable talking to you."
The foot patrols are part of an effort to have more Burlington cops out in the community. The department also closed down North Street recently to host a barbeque for the community: an afternoon of grill food, games, bouncy castles and face-painting.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo says being out in the community is key to creating positive change.
"You need kind of slow policing to really solve community problems in a lasting way and foot patrols are about slow policing," del Pozo said. "An officer on foot noting the conditions, talking to people, trying to find ways to solve problems that aren't just about handcuffs."
Church Street is one of the areas that the department has focused its foot patrols in the past and will continue to have a strong presence.
Church Street is busier than North Street, given the number of restaurants, bars and shops. But the concept of the foot patrol remains the same: Walk the streets, talk to people and listen.
On the same night Namdar is on North Street, Sergeant Wade Labrecque patrolled Church Street.
Labrecque said he advises newer police officers to use foot patrols to establish relationships. Getting to know the shop owners and regulars in an area can help you solve problems more efficiently.
He recognizes for newer officers it might seem intimidating to start conversations with people, but he assures them it gets easier the more you do it.
"Even if it's just saying hello to somebody one day," Labrecque said. "Then the next day you say, 'How's everything going?' And the next day after that you talk to them a little bit more and before you know it that person's your friend."
On North Street, when Namdar isn't walking around, she'll often stand in front of The Shopping Bag, a convenience store and grill, known for its burger, "The Sizzler."
On this particular night, a steady stream of people went in and out of the store, most emerging with brown paper bags flecked with grease and the scent of fried food trailing behind them.
Namdar stood on the curb, arms slightly crossed and surveyed the scene. She wandered over to a group of high schoolers as they waited for their food.
The high schoolers laughed and joked with Namdar about how they asked their dates to prom and after a few minutes, she said goodbye and returned to her perch on the curb.
As she stood on the curb, Kiefer Banta walked out of the shop for a cigarette break. He works at the store and lives two blocks up the street. He said he's glad to see the cops around.
"Just the other day when I was getting out of work we had a really drunk guy causing a big ruckus and the cops got him out in like two minutes," Banta said. "What everyone says, whether they have negative thoughts about the police around here, I, for one, am 100 percent for the Burlington cops."
It ended up being a very quiet night for Namdar on North Street. Nothing really happened, but she said a police officer has to be flexible and ready to handle whatever comes up during a patrol.
"Your role can change rapidly, even on the same scene or the same interaction with someone," Namdar said.
Tonight, Namdar said she's a little bit of a security officer and a little bit of a friend.