Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Matthew Blackman, of the Barre Police Department's civilian patrol, walks the beat on Main Street downtown Wednesday.
BARRE — If you've been to downtown Barre recently, you may have noticed a man in a yellow and black jacket walking around.
His name is Matthew Blackman, and he's a student at Norwich University studying criminal justice. But this year, much like last summer, Blackman has taken on a role affectionately referred to around town as a “bee.”
The formal title of the bees is the Civilian Bike Patrol, which is mostly composed of Norwich students or young adults looking for summer work with an interest in law enforcement. They aren't police officers and are armed only with radios. They're a common sight in the summer, wearing yellow and black polo shirts and riding around town on bikes.
The bees usually don't come out until summer, but, with the recent string of armed robberies in the Barre area this past winter, one might assume Blackman's presence is to help law enforcement keep downtown safer.
While part of Blackman's job is to be the eyes and ears of the police department, Mayor Thomas Lauzon said recently he asked for a bee to come out early because 300 state employees were set to descend on the city.
“When people started moving into City Place, we thought it was important to have a presence in the downtown,” Lauzon said. “So, if people couldn't figure out where to park or if people needed assistance, someone was there to direct them.”
After having Blackman on the streets for a couple of weeks in early March, Lauzon said the positive response he received from local merchants helped him decide to keep the bee out there.
Cynthia Duprey, owner of Next Chapter Bookstore on North Main Street, said it was nice to have Blackman around keeping an eye on things. She said her son, Tucker, served as a bee two summers ago.
Bob Sager, owner of Bob's Camera and Video, also on North Main Street, agreed.
“I think they're great,” Sager said. “It makes a nice presence. It helps people feel safer. I don't know why, because I think the downtown is in the best shape that we've had it in years.”
Blackman, a New Jersey native, said last week that he has had people randomly approach to thank him for his work. He's OK with that.
“I mean, you should really be thanking the real (officers) behind me,” he said.
The response hasn't been completely positive, however, as he said a few “townies” have harassed him. Blackman guesses it's been mostly people who don't have a high opinion of police in the first place.
“But that's typical in any city,” he said.
When asked how that experience has been, Blackman said, “It's interesting. You've just got to smile back. But overall the people of Barre are pretty chill. I haven't had any real serious issues.”
While on the job, Blackman's responsibilities include keeping an eye out for criminal activity and helping with the collection of change from parking meters. When it comes to helping with directions to people new in town, Blackman said he's still a little rusty pointing out locations.
“But the majority of the time if someone needs help, I'm able to help them out,” he said. “The more time I put in here, the better I'll know the city.”
Blackman wants to join the military after he takes off the yellow and black attire, hopefully as an officer in the U.S. Marines. He wanted to start his military career sooner, but his family had other plans.
“I wanted to join the military first, but my mother literally begged me to go to school first and see if I liked it,” he said.
Blackman, a cadet at Norwich, said that once his military days were over he'd like to pick up a job as a police officer, which is why he jumped at the chance to become a bee and gain valuable experience.
He had planned to break out his bike one day last week, but the weather that morning failed to cooperate. Blackman said residents should see him out on his bike soon.
Police Chief Tim Bombardier said the rest of the bees should be deployed by the end of May.
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