After more than 30 years on Milton’s police force, Police Chief Brett Van Noordt will retire next month, he told the Milton Independent on Friday.
Van Noordt has seriously considered retirement over the last month and just decided this week it was time to submit his resignation.
His last day will be October 6.
Interim town manager Don Turner said he plans to have an interim chief in place before Van Noordt leaves, saying an internal candidate will be chosen based on qualifications. He then hopes to form a search committee to recommend a candidate for Milton’s next chief.
“The timing was sooner than I anticipated, but any time is too soon with the person of the characteristics and qualities Brett brings to the table,” Turner said.
Turner, who as fire and rescue chief has worked closely with Van Noordt for years, said Van Noordt created a department that is connected to the community.
“Sometimes that’s not the case with a police department,” Turner said. “They have a difficult job … and are dealing with people, most of the time, at the person’s worst possible time. I think they do a very professional job, and it’s a result of the leadership Brett has brought to the organization over the years.”
Losing a 30-year employee has its challenges, but Turner said the upcoming vacancy is an opportunity for Milton, which has seen significant turnover among department heads in the last few years.
Excepting a short stint at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Van Noordt has spent his entire career in Milton, starting out as a patrolman and working his way up to chief in 1999.
A man of few words, Van Noordt summed up his time in Milton as fun despite the inherent challenges. He’s optimistic about the future, saying Milton has a strong, 17-officer roster that is respected in town and statewide.
“There’s certainly a great bunch of professionals to work with,” he said. “It’s why I’ve been here 18 years as chief – because of them.”
Van Noordt started in 1987, just after nearly the entire police force walked out over contentions with then-Chief Jim Lyons. There were abundant vacancies, and Van Noordt – a recent graduate of Norwich University – put his name in for consideration.
“Milton used to be wild,” he said of his first days on the job. “It was a tough place to work back in those days – mostly domestics and fighting in the streets.”
Other memorable cases include his first few as chief. On Day 1, officers responded to a fatal accident in which a man was run over by a car on his walk home. Within the first few months there were more fatalities, including a homicide-by-bludgeoning on Ritchie Avenue and the Sarah Marie Apartments arson that killed three children and their grandmother.
“I started thinking, ‘Do I really want this job?’” Van Noordt recalled. “I took it. I thought it was an interesting job to be chief.
“It’s been a long 30 years-plus,” he continued, “but this place has come a long way, too.”
He still remembers buying the department’s first-ever computer for $1,800 from his own pocket, an expensive luxury back then that has since changed nearly everything about modern policing. The typewriter he used before still sits on the shelf near his desk.
Overall, Van Noordt thinks technology has helped policing, noting successful efforts obtaining grants for license plate readers and body cameras. Record-keeping software Valcour and its predecessor Spillman alone have helped solve crimes, since the data officers enter can be immediately searched and sorted to identify suspects.
Van Noordt has also seen officers’ focus shift. While domestic disturbances have always topped the list of complaints, drug use has increased. He never would have imagined heroin would be mixed with fentanyl, a chemical deadly not only to users but cops who come in contact with it.
That’s one reason Van Noordt has made efforts to keep his cops trained, sending them to the Vermont Police Academy and out of state for specialized classes, like on mental health crises and criminal investigation.
He hopes the next chief will keep this priority, along with community policing efforts. Van Noordt listed National Night Out, the Milton Activities Fair and its student resource officer and K9 programs as proud accomplishments.
“[They’ve] been utilized by us and other agencies,” Van Noordt said of K9 Hatchi and handler, Cpl. Jason Porter. “We’re finally giving back to the rest of the law enforcement community instead of being dependent [on it].”
He expects it won’t be long before Milton is large enough to contribute officers to the Vermont Drug Taskforce or Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations. He also expects the PD will need to expand someday with more office space and a larger evidence room.
But those are projects for the next chief.
For now, Van Noordt is looking forward to visiting down south and playing golf before the snow starts to fly. But even he admits he can’t play golf every day, saying he expects he’ll pick up some part-time work eventually.
“This is fun, but I want something more fun,” he said.
And though he’s recusing himself from recommending Milton’s future chief, Van Noordt said Milton PD has a lot of internal talent to consider. Hiring from within would be a morale-booster and create opportunity for upward mobility, as it did when Cpl. Jon Centabar and Sgt. John Palasik retired in recent years.
Turner said the town will commemorate Van Noordt’s retirement with a celebration on October 6 with speakers and a plaque recognizing his service.
Friday afternoon, Van Noordt grimaced at the thought, saying a cake would be enough to end his career.
“I’m going to miss the people of Milton and everybody in the town that I work with,” he said. “But I think 30-and-a-half years – that’s plenty.”