Police officials meet with seniors

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BENNINGTON — Last February or March, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette's mother received a call from someone who told her that her grandson — the chief's son — had been hospitalized after a car crash and needed money.

She did not call Doucette, he said, because she did not want him "to freak out." But she did call his sister, a longtime Brown University police officer, who advised her that the call was a scam.

Doucette offered the account of the narrowly avoided hoax — "My mom was this close to giving her credit card number," he said — during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session at the Bennington Senior Center on Wednesday morning.

Doucette and Lt. Camillo Grande spoke to more than a dozen seniors in an upstairs room at the center, located at 124 Pleasant St., for a little over an hour as part of an event billed as "Coffee with the Chief."

To avoid falling victim to scams like the one aimed at Doucette's grandmother, the chief told seniors, say thanks, hang up without providing any information and "make a phone call to see if someone is actually hurt."

"You've got to remember: If it doesn't sound right, it probably isn't," Grande said.

Doucette, who has worked for the town of Bennington for 30 years, also spoke about how Bennington is making "positive strides" in development and continues to function as "the hub of services for the entire area."

The department has seen its calls for service increase from about 8,000 in 2016 to about 11,440 last year, but "our staffing levels have remained the same," he said.

The town's proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, adopted by the Select Board on Jan. 11, includes funding to add three new officers, which will allow the department to send three veteran officers into local elementary schools as school resource officers. The bulk of the latter trio's salaries and benefits will be paid to the town by the Bennington School District, Doucette said.

Doucette also spoke about the local impact of the nationwide opioid crisis. Police are often criticized for not doing enough to combat the epidemic, he said, but sometimes courts don't mete out sufficient punishment "or make sure that these people get the treatment that they need."

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A related issue, according to Doucette, is that people in need of certain kinds of addiction treatment currently must travel to Brattleboro and other relatively far-flung locations to access it. "We need to be able to help these people, to get them back on the right track," he said.

After responding with the Bennington Rescue Squad to reported overdoses, police later "follow up" with those people and "try to get them to treatment — and we've been successful," Doucette said.

Bennington police officers carry Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, as well as tourniquets and gauze to treat wounds, Doucette said.

The chief encouraged attendees to use the department's online crime tip portal — available on its website, benningtonpolice.com — which allows users to anonymously submit information that "comes right to the lieutenant and I."

Carrie Fabricius, the center's program manager, said the event was the first of what she hoped would become a regular occurrence. Informal gatherings like this one help to humanize police officers, making them seem less intimidating, she said.

The idea for the event came from a newsletter from another senior center that someone had visited, said Fabricius, who emailed Doucette to invite him to the center.

"I'm absolutely coming back," Doucette told the Banner after the event. "It's a lot of fun to come and talk to the seniors and hear what their issues are."

Several seniors expressed appreciation for the chief's visit after the event.

"You learn a lot" from this sort of meet-and-greet, said Rose Telford, of North Bennington.

Seniors will have another opportunity to learn about scams next month in Bennington. At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, People's United Bank, in partnership with the Bennington Senior Center, will be holding a free event at its Main Street branch focused on fraud and scams that target seniors. People can sign up by calling the center at 802-442-1052.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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