“You can’t do your job if not connected to the community,” said Edwards. “Law enforcement is not policing, law enforcement is only an element of policing, and a lot of people miss that. When I first started, I had an attitude of how I would treat people, and true leadership is getting everyone on board with a single idea and within the department we had the attitude to treat people well.”
Edwards began his career as a police officer in 1977. He was a scrawny 18-year-old, fresh out of Wilmington High School, who had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to be a cop. When he discussed it with then-Wilmington police officer Arnie Bernard, a big influence early in his career, Bernard told Edwards to stop talking about it and just do it. So Edwards applied for a job opening at Dover’s department and was hired. His training consisted of three days shadowing an officer and then, as he puts it, he was handed the keys to the cruiser and told not to get in trouble.
“It was pretty scary” remembers Edwards. “My training was learning on the job as I went along.”
In 1977 the Dover Police Department was an office with one phone line, a typewriter, a card file, and a box to put reports in, as well as two cruisers that had to share one portable radio. Edwards has been asked many times, “Why didn’t you go somewhere bigger?” To which he always replied, “The department came to me and it grew.”
But as the department changed, so did the attitude toward certain accepted practices at the time, one of which was drinking and driving. Edwards said that one of the biggest changes in his years policing was the attitude toward this common practice. “The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were wild around here,” said Edwards. “In the first 10 years of my career I saw the most fatalities, and in the mid-1980s we started to do checkpoints and started changing things. Our last alcohol-related fatality was in 1987, and this was probably the most successful thing police have done is having enforcement consistent with the attitude.”
Enforcement consistent with attitude is a theme that has defined Edwards’ career. A firm believer in the broken windows theory, Edwards has always believed in not letting small things go, because they always lead to bigger problems. Graffiti or a sticker not cleaned off a road sign will lead to more, and a crime as simple as gas being siphoned has led to solving larger crimes.
Another reason Edwards continued to put the badge on for 36 years was the feedback from those he helped. “The best thing is not the big cases, but the small things when someone’s life has been turned around because of the way you handled it. When you cite someone, it’s not to show a statistic or a number, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about helping someone correct a behavior.”
Edwards always sought ways to enhance his abilities through education, both learning and teaching nationwide. Since 1998 he has taught at the Vermont Police Academy, and has taught locally and nationwide on the ways to stop the use of fake IDs. He also attended the FBI academy in 2000, an experience that he said rejuvenated his love for the job.
Teaming up with Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, Edwards focused his educating efforts on Twin Valley High School, teaching awareness of drugs and alcohol. Always a fan of working with video, Edwards started The Student Network (TSN) and produced PSAs and shorts with high-schoolers to educate their peers.
Edwards also saw his fair share of tragedy while on the force, and early in his career, and in such a small area, it makes it even tougher. “The fatalities were tough,” said Edwards. “ You knew most of the people, you would see them and say ‘Hi’ at a lunch counter. That’s the hard part about being so connected to such a small community.”
One of the most effective ways Edwards believes his department has been able to help the community is through paying attention to the signs of mental health issues. “Sometimes it’s a matter of something went wrong and someone was in the middle of a mental breakdown,” said Edwards. “You look carefully at the situation, and sometimes you don’t have to charge people, you have to look carefully at each situation. We have an incarceration problem in this country and if they go to jail without being treated for mental issues, they will come back to the community dealing with something much worse a year and a half later.
“An important part of policing is knowing your community and not solving everything with a law book.”
Carrying on the department’s community-focused policing operations will be Edwards’ partner in stopping crime for over 30 years, Sgt. Randy Johnson, who was promoted to chief by the selectboard over the summer. Johnson, whom Edwards hired in April 1982, has slowly been taking over Edwards’ responsibilities and says there will be no need for changes in the department’s philosophy.
“Through my experience,” said Johnson, “when I’ve had to have run-ins with local people, they understand, I grew up here too, and we have a job to do just like they do, and they know what kind of person you are.”
Johnson also had high praise for the man he worked with for 30 years. “He’s the kind of chief where he trusts his employees to do what has to be done, while asking for their input as well. Over the years we’ve been lucky to have good people working here because they agree with his philosophy.”
While there will be no more missed dinners with his family, or calls on Christmas to attend to, Edwards will not be riding off into the sunset to some other corner of the world. Edwards intends to continue working on bettering the community by expanding TSN and working with DVCP. Edwards will also be working for Inertia Unlimited, a video camera company that works with major networks.
Edwards said that the main reason he put on the badge every day for 36 years was simply his love for the community, and the difference he felt he could make in it. “The town is a great place to work,” said Edwards. “I worked with 32 different selectboards, and I look at what’s happened in Dover, the investment we’ve made in ourselves. It will pay off in the future, it shows we’re alive.”
Edwards will be honored at a retirement dinner on Friday evening, November 1, at the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow.