It’s all in a day’s work for a Vermont State Police trooper
ADDISON COUNTY — The invitation to ride along with a Vermont State Police trooper got a little intimidating after reading the requisite consent form. The passenger — in this case, a reporter — shouldn’t rule out the possibility of being whisked at a high rate of speed to a crime scene and the risk of injury, and yes, even death.
This scribe swallowed even harder when VSP Sgt. Blake Cushing of the New Haven barracks recommended close scrutiny of the location of the cruiser’s radio in case the trooper were incapacitated and needed backup.
At age 55, weighing 155 pounds and armed with a just a pen, I had to balance my journalistic desire for a roadside “exclusive” with the natural instinct for self-preservation.
In other words, let’s hope for some excitement, but no flying lead.
As it turned out, there was no need to worry.
A two-and-a-half hour tour of the county with Trooper Joshua Gurwicz produced two uneventful stops — one for an expired inspection sticker, the other for a driver using a cell phone. But the trip did provide a first-hand glimpse into the daily routine of law enforcement.
Gurwicz, 25, could be plastered on the VSP’s recruitment poster.
He’s stands around 6 feet, 2 inches tall, is lean and athletic; he runs a lot; he trains in the martial art of jiu jitsu. It’s safe to say he could handle himself if thrust into a physical confrontation.
But that’s not what Gurwicz is about.
He’s polite, quick with a smile and knows that a calm approach can be disarming when speaking with a speeder at a roadside stop or a suspect in a domestic complaint whose emotions are running high.
“Being calm in a situation can really bring it back down,” Gurwicz said. “You’ve got to be grounded and fair. You’ve got to understand that these are human beings, someone else’s child, who might have committed crime.”
It can be a demanding job, and that’s fine with Gurwicz, a lifelong resident of the Shelburne area who knew from an early age he wanted to pursue a career in either law enforcement or the military.
But it didn’t start out that way.
Gurwicz earned a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont, and his first job was as a paraprofessional working one-on-one with students at the Shelburne Community School.
He loves kids, and continues to work with them as an assistant soccer coach.
Gurwicz found the classroom work rewarding, but felt the pull again to a career in law enforcement. He saw the VSP was recruiting, and successfully applied to become a trooper. He began his rigorous training at the Vermont Police Academy around three years ago and was assigned to the VSP’s New Haven barracks. He said he loves the Addison County area, with which he has become very familiar.
“In Addison County, there is a huge team effort (fighting crime) with all the agencies, which is great,” he said. That cooperation involves the Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol police, as well as the Addison County Sheriff’s Department. AFTER CHECKING OUT the radio in the cruiser, Independent reporter John Flowers is ready to ride along with Trooper Joshua Gurwicz from the New Haven barracks.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The miles disappear under Gurwicz’s tires, and one gets a sense of just how vast the county is and why it’s necessary for the local agencies to collaborate. There are times when Gurwicz might be one of only a few troopers on the road. He might be investigating a theft from a business in Panton and suddenly be asked to respond to a home invasion in Orwell.
“We’re all over the place,” Gurwicz said. “You can be in one spot, and then in a whole different part of the county.”
The young trooper is almost apologetic that the ride-along has produced little “action” for the reporter to record. He notes it’s mid-morning, few vehicles are on the road and people are — for the most part — staying at, or under, the speed limit. Every once in a while, Gurwicz’s radar detector will chime at an oncoming vehicle doing more than the posted 50-miles-per-hour speed limit on the major roads we are traveling — Routes 7, 22A, 74 and 30. Gurwicz can use his discretion when it comes to deciding when to pull over a speeder. A lot of it has to do with how far over the limit the speeder is going, and whether he or she is a habitual offender. Unlike past generations of police, Gurwicz and his contemporaries have laptop computers in their cruisers that can reveal a suspect’s past infractions within a split second.
And not everyone Gurwicz pulls over will get a ticket. Above all, he wants the driver to correct his or her behavior.
“There’s more to police interaction than a ticket,” Gurwicz said. “There’s an educational aspect.”
And Gurwicz is all about education when it comes to traffic stops.
At 9:20 a.m., Gurwicz is traveling north on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh when he notices an expired inspection sticker on a Ford Ranger driving in the opposite direction. He turns his cruiser around and signals the pick up truck to stop in the Dakin Farms parking lot.
He carefully approaches the driver’s side window of the vehicle and engages the driver in what looks like a convivial conversation, rather than a lecture.
Gurwicz returns to his cruiser, writes the driver a warning, and sends him on his way. He could’ve issued the guy a ticket, but Gurwicz doesn’t see the point in this case, after taking the driver’s prior history and comportment into consideration. He’s satisfied the man will get his vehicle inspected in short order and will pay better attention to the often out-of-sight, out-of-mind sticker at the top of the windshield.
“A lot of the time, ‘life happens,’” Gurwicz said of the propensity for people to forget about their inspection stickers.
Gurwicz is asked how he even noticed the sticker flash by while answering a reporter’s questions and operating a cruiser replete with gadgetry emitting a cacophony of dings, whirs and voices.
He smiles and shrugs his shoulders.
This bespectacled reporter tells him he must be a great hunter.
But Gurwicz doesn’t hunt. He confesses having a hard time euthanizing deer that get hit by cars.
Traffic enforcement is, of course, just one of Gurwicz’s duties. He tends to a multitude of crime categories, including break-ins, family fights, drug trafficking, thefts, vandalisms, trespassing complaints, murders and sexual assaults. All require investigation, culminating in filed reports that the state’s attorney’s office will evaluate for prosecution. He realizes the media want press releases about these cases, to let the public know about criminal activity in their midst.
Then there are other incidents that don’t necessarily make the police blotter, but epitomize the fact that troopers can expect anything — including clearing livestock from a well-traveled road. Gurwicz recalled one particularly stubborn cow he was asked to help lead off a road in Salisbury.
“There was a farmer on hand who said, ‘Better watch out, the cow might kick you,’” Gurwicz chuckled.
But the lighter moments can be few and far between. It’s serious work. Addison County’s bucolic scenery belies an increasingly serious drug addiction problem among some of its residents, which can translate into such crimes as break-ins, DUIs, drug trafficking, motor vehicle accidents and family crises. Gurwicz has seen his share of those crimes, and it never gets easier. It might be a youth caught stealing in order to finance his next bag of heroin. Could be a single mom so strung out on opioids that she can’t take care of her child. And it could be a collision, with multiple fatalities. Gurwicz has already responded to several fatal car crashes during his brief career, and they will remain etched in his memory.
“Giving notifications for lost loved ones is the hardest thing,” Gurwicz said of his job. “Grief affects people in different ways, and you need to be prepared.”
Such scenes also affect the troopers, who have access to each other and counseling to deal with some of the tragic circumstances they encounter during their patrols.
“You see some intense things, so you need to talk about it,” he said.
A lot of paperwork. Road work. Investigations. Constant training. Occasional court appearances. It all makes for a workweek that typically far exceeds 40 hours and can create a lot of stress, according to Gurwicz. He tries to shed his stress by staying in shape and volunteering in his community. He also has a supportive family, including his girlfriend.
“There’s a lot of multi-tasking,” he said.
Gurwicz takes advantage of as much VSP training as he can. He noted, with pride, that he recently became certified for the state police’s scuba team, which conducts underwater search, rescue and recovery. The team can be called upon to mobilize at a lake or river at any time, any day, to recover a person who might have drowned or become lost in a waterway.
Not much crime busting on this morning trip, though you can’t beat the work environment — rolling hills and leaves on the fringe of a color change.
The next time out, it could be different for Gurwicz, who will rely on his training to take him through another shift.
“You never know what you’re going to see and where you’re going to go,” Gurwicz said of his role as a trooper.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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