Goshen native Nick Stewart joins Middlebury police
MIDDLEBURY — Nick Stewart has already had a lot of adventures and career twists for a man of 35. His ambition and wanderlust have taken him from his hometown of Goshen, to the frothy Atlantic coast of Maine, to the tropical paradise of Hawaii, before returning to his beloved Green Mountain State two years ago.
The one constant in his career has been a love for working with people. And he’s doing a lot of that right now in Middlebury, as the town’s newest police officer.
“The natural progression of what I do is working intensively with people,” Stewart said. “I’m naturally happy when I’m able to engage productively, directly and in some critical situations — whether it’s leadership, guidance, training or all of the above.”
He was raised in Goshen, though much of his life — especially as a youth — was centered in Middlebury. That’s where he attended the Bridge School. Stewart was part of the first class that moved into a new Middlebury Union Middle School building more than two decades ago.
Upon graduating from Middlebury Union High School, it was off to the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, where he to studied philosophy and English.
“The English and philosophy degree, that spoke to me,” he said with a chuckle. “I was good at that stuff. It was fun. You learn to communicate and think critically and accurately… Whatever you set your mind to after that, you can move into anything you want.”
It laid a good foundation for his goal of networking with people, as opposed to a more sedentary office occupation. Stewart — an avid hiker, long-distance trail runner and outdoorsman — has always been about staying active.
Stewart stayed in Maine for a while after earning his bachelor’s degree. He felt a calling to help people with mental health and or behavioral issues. So he joined the staff at a residential group home in Kennebunk, teaching young adults the skills they would need to live independently after moving out of state custody.
“They were experiencing pretty significant emotional and behavioral issues,” Stewart recalled of his clients. “It was about getting them ready to live on their own.”
It wasn’t too long before Stewart and his spouse, Jamie, chose to sample a warmer climate. They moved to the big island of Hawaii, where Stewart worked as chief safety officer for a large boat company, Fair Wind Inc. It was another opportunity for him to practice and polish his people skills, this time with tourists from throughout the world.
Several years in Hawaii was enough, as the couple yearned for a return to familiar faces and sites in Addison County. They moved to the Middlebury area in 2016, when Stewart took a job as a behavioral specialist with the Counseling Service of Addison County, helping children with difficulties in local schools.
Stewart loved connecting with his young charges, gaining their trust and helping them overcome challenges. It was true problem solving, helping people help themselves.
It wasn’t long before Stewart aspired to take problem solving to a different level: Police work.
“I found that having worked in that intense customer service and safety standpoint, that transferred really well to working (in law enforcement), especially with kids and young adults,” he said.
He was accepted to the Vermont Police Academy and graduated last year in a class that included fellow Middlebury Police Officer Casey Covey. He then spent around a year with the Brandon Police Department before signing on with Middlebury PD.
“I was familiar with the department and having gone through training with Officer Covey, I had a good basis for comparison,” Stewart said. “In keeping in touch with him, I was able to get a sense of the ins and outs of the (Middlebury Police) department. But you never really know the inside of an organization until you step into it.”
He joined Middlebury PD this fall and has thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a role that’s allowed him to make a positive impact close to home.
“Because we were based here in Middlebury, as a family, it began to feel important to me to help my community in a more direct way,” he said.
Stewart likes all aspects of police work.
“I like being part of the solution to a problem, whether that’s responding to a car accident, behavioral issues, or a routine traffic stop,” he said.
With his background in mental health services, Stewart places a premium on defusing potentially volatile situations.
“In my experience, what needs to come first is a sense of trust — that (the person) enjoys being with you,” Stewart said. “I’ve found that particularly true in police work, in general. If you’re able to connect with someone and make them feel comfortable with you, you can then address the behavior you’re trying to change much more directly than by trying to force someone to change their behavior just by your say-so.”
Police officers, he believes, should be custodians of what he calls “the legal hard boundaries.” In other words, law enforcement’s first goal should be to de-escalate and reason with a suspect. If diplomacy fails, police have the responsibility to bring about a more forceful resolution to a situation in order to ensure public safety, he noted.
When he’s not in uniform, you might see Stewart, his wife and their two-and-a-half-year-old son enjoying the outdoors. As a result, he’s fit. So if you’re a ne’er-do-well, you’re not likely to outrun Stewart. Don’t even try.
“We’re a four-season, active outdoor family,” he said, citing his favorite pastimes as canoeing, camping and long distance trail running — especially up in Goshen.
“You’re always in shape when you put the two-year-old on your back.” Stewart said with a smile.
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said Stewart’s hiring brings the department up to its full complement of 15 uniformed officers. It should be noted, however, that one officer remains out on long-term disability leave, while another is on restricted duties recovering from a shoulder injury.
Hanley believes Stewart will be a good fit with the department.
“(Stewart) is a lifelong resident of this area, he demonstrated a commitment to this community; his education and experience in human relations and his interpersonal communication skills were a desirable skill,” Hanley said. “Prior to re-settling in the Middlebury area, he had gained experience in relating to diverse cultures; Nick also attained the highest ratings we’ve ever had on our initial testing.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].