By NEIL ZAWICKI
Milton Police Officer Matthew McQueen is in his fourth year on the force. The Westford native says he always wanted to go into law enforcement; he has family members who were officers.
Before going to the Vermont Police Academy, McQueen earned a Bachelor’s degree in history from Castleton University, and went on to get his Masters in history from the University of Reading (pronounced Redding) in Berkshire, England. He had plans to teach history, and still does. At 30, he’s settled in for a full career as an officer: He’ll be able to retire with a pension in 20 years, and then switch to teaching.
“I’ll only be 46, so if I do it right, I could have two careers,” he said.
The first call McQueen took on his Aug. 14 shift was to a disabled vehicle on Route 7 north of Arrowhead Mountain Lake. It was a simple mechanical malfunction, but the vehicle and its passengers —a group of high school kids— were exposed on a narrow stretch of road just past a turn, so McQueen had to make sure they were safe until help arrived.
Such calls are common for McQueen.
“We get a lot of slide offs in the winter here,” he said. “But because of the snow it’s cushioned so it’s really just a matter of pulling the car out of the bank.”
The nature of police work in Milton, said McQueen, makes for a pleasant work environment. He said he wouldn’t want to be a cop anywhere else.
“Vermont is a much different animal,” he said. “It’s not like Los Angeles or other large cities.”
McQueen said the most common calls he responds to have to do with people with mental health issues.
“People are in a dark place and having a hard time and they just need a little help,” he said.
Many officers tend to specialize in one area. For McQueen, that’s detective work.
“I took an interview class and it blew my mind,” he said, referencing the dynamics of questioning a suspect or a witness.
McQueen says he likes the flexibility of his 12-hour shift. One thing he’ll do is what he calls “flying the flag,” which is essentially community policing: Rolling through a neighborhood and providing a police presence. Some neighborhoods, he said, could be considered “bad areas,” but only because of neighbor disputes.
“You have a higher density of people who don’t like to get along with each other,” he said of these areas. McQueen said it’s the “vocal minority,” that small amount of people making trouble, who create a situation that makes the problem seem larger than it is.
He also said the nature of his calls changes with the seasons.
“In the winter, you’ll get more vocal arguments with families who are cooped up,” he said. “But then people tend to drive as little as possible, so there are not as many traffic problems.”
But winter patrols bring special scenarios, said McQueen. While on patrol last winter he said he saw a snowmobile on the roadway, which is not legal, but as he approached the scene, the snowmobile operator turned off the roadway and onto a cut snowmobile trail, vanishing into the snowy woods. Of course, McQueen’s cruiser was not capable snow travel, let alone catching the snowmobiler.
“I was like, and…I’m done.,” said McQueen with a laugh.
McQueen parks along East Road and pulls out his radar gun for detecting speeders. This is a major part of his day. Generally, the cars are observing the speed limit, but once in a while he gets a live one.
On Saturday, Aug. 10, sitting at his spot along East Road, a motorcyclist blew past him at a startlingly high rate of speed. The radar gun, which emits a tone that gets higher in pitch the higher the speed, screamed with a piercing sound, sending McQueen’s adrenaline through the roof.
“I stopped looking at my radar after it read 102,” he said.
Giving chase, McQueen figured he had no hope of catching the speeding bike, but as luck would have it, a semi truck blocking the road near a railroad trestle had forced the biker to stop.
The semi truck was likely only there because, as McQueen explained, many truckers will use their GPS to find a shorter route, only to be surprised by the low trestle, which causes them to make a slow and road-blocking turn around.
For McQueen, the timing was perfect. He joked that his police training and skill helped him catch the speeding bike, but allows for the reality of the situation.
“The only reason I caught up to him was pure luck,” said McQueen.
The biker, who had a Colchester address, at first denied he was speeding, but McQueen managed to capture him on his dashboard camera admitting he’d gunned it on the road a ways back.
Looking at a $175 ticket and eight points on his license, McQueen is certain the biker will contest the ticket in court, which means he’ll have to go to court to defend the citation.
‘”I will probably never again have a pursuit that fast,” said McQueen. “I peaked my career there.”
While such moments of excitement will happen on the job in Milton, McQueen said for the most part his job involves community policing, and he added that the small department makes for a collegial environment.
But he and the rest of the department hope soon to fill the ranks. With the departure of officer Edouard Larente and another officer’s retirement last month, McQueen keeps company with just 14 other officers. For a town as large as Milton, that number should be more like 20. But as The Independent reported July 30, it has been a tough go trying to recruit qualified candidates.
“It’s a great place to work,” said McQueen.
McQueen spots a work truck traveling 47 in a 30 mph zone, heading down the hill on Main Street toward Route 7. He turns on his blue lights and pursues the truck. After the traffic stop and confirmation the driver has no warrants or other reasons for arrest, he lets him off with a warning after consulting with him about the speed limit.
“He was very apologetic,” said McQueen about the driver. “He told me he was looking at a gauge on his work truck and just lost track of the speed limit. When people are up front about it and show remorse, I usually give them a break. In this instance, a warning was sufficient to correct to behavior.”
McQueen said the biggest thing he’s learned in his new career has to do with understanding the complexities of society.
“People often think life is black and white, but what I’ve learned from being a cop is that life is nothing but gray,” he said. “Never go into a situation assuming anything.”