For a man who dreaded his goodbye party, Milton police Chief Brett Van Noordt took it in stride and with a smile last Friday, when a sizable crowd gathered to wish him well in retirement.
Van Noordt started as a patrolman in 1987 and was promoted to chief in 1999, making him both the longest serving chief and officer in department history.
Interim Chief Stephen Laroche said when Van Noordt started, the department had just six members; the roster now features 17, including two detectives, a K9 officer and student resource officer.
The majority of these officers were in attendance last Friday, standing at attention in the municipal building community room as a series of speakers attested to their chief’s accomplishments.
Town manager Don Turner recalled some of the trying times Van Noordt oversaw, like the record number of fatalities in his first few weeks as chief and a drowning in 2011 that lead to a 30-day search for the man’s body.
“I commend Brett,” said Turner, Milton’s fire and rescue chief who worked closely with Van Noordt. “He never lost sight of the fact that this missing body was someone’s son, and he treated the family with empathy and compassion.
“The town of Milton is a better place to be because of Brett’s efforts,” he continued.
Selectboard chairman Darren Adams spoke to Van Noordt’s sense of humor, which he called “the best weapon that he’s carried as a police officer all these years.”
Adams, who worked with Van Noordt for years as former rescue chief, emergency dispatcher and now selectman, recalled when Van Noordt was named chief. When Van Noordt pinned the gold stars on his epaulets, he’d forgotten to remove the chevron sergeant stripes, inspiring the nickname “Sgt. Two-Star” from Adams.
“He never really took those stripes off,” Adams said. “In his heart and on his sleeves, he was still a patrolman.”
Adams lauded Van Noordt’s efforts to reverse turnover and raise Milton PD’s profile from essentially a field training office with the area’s lowest salaries to a competitive department with opportunities for growth.
Laroche had his own anecdotes, paying tribute to his boss’ fiscal conservativism and personality quirks.
“You can stretch a dollar bill like no one can,” he said, recalling how Van Noordt once came to work with the hem of his pants stapled in favor of sending them to a tailor. “He was very conscious of taxpayer dollars.”
The 24-year MPD veteran got choked up when he said he realized Van Noordt would no longer be down the hall to give him an honest answer to any tough question. He said he’ll miss Van Noordt’s signature 11 a.m. announcement.
“Lunch! Coffee?” the officers assembled called out to laughter.
“I think I’m gonna go hungry,” Laroche said. “I figured during your time and my time here, we spent every lunch together, probably over 1,000 times.”
Laroche joked he won’t miss driving the cruiser after Van Noordt, who often left the radio on Rush Limbaugh’s talk program and the seat pushed way back so the much shorter Laroche could barely reach the steering wheel.
Turning to his superior, Laroche said, “I can honestly say you left this department in a better place than when you started. Thank you.”
St. Albans City Police Chief Gary Taylor, representing the Vermont Chiefs of Police Association, also gave a tribute and announced that organization is gifting Van Noordt an engraved golf putter for the chief’s favorite hobby.
“We thought you probably couldn’t play golf with a plaque,” Taylor said.
Milton Independent founder and editor emeritus Lynn Delaney praised Van Noordt’s cooperation with the local paper and asked for one last hug before he goes.
When he finally took the podium, Van Noordt said he was at a loss for words.
“Everybody here – I couldn’t have done this job for 18 years without them and the taxpayers, the people, other police chiefs, many of which are here,” he said. “It was just a great time, and I’m going to miss you all.”
The event ended with cake and with Laroche pinning the gold chief’s badge to his uniform, sergeant stripes nowhere in sight.
The town began advertising for the permanent chief’s position this week. It plans to assemble a seven-person hiring committee to vet applicants and forward finalists to another group comprised of town leadership and one non-supervisory police officer.
The town hopes to name a new chief by year’s end.