It was both a celebration and send-off Saturday afternoon for longtime Shelburne Police Chief James Warden who, along with about 200 well-wishers, marked his retirement and his selection as the winner of the 2018 Colleen Haag Public Service Award.
There were plenty of laughs, a few tears, and lots of stories shared. The crowd included a virtual who’s-who of past and present leaders of Shelburne, business owners, friends, and colleagues.
Shelburne Poet Laureate Rick Bessette read his original poem, “To a Friend,” to Warden, who spent 52 years in police work, including 30 as chief in Shelburne. Bessette read the poem at Town Meeting in March, but Warden, who retired last August, was unable to attend.
Retired Town Manager Paul Bohne said Warden was “as perfect a police chief” as the town could have, remarking that unlike some chiefs who stay behind a desk, Warden often was out and about in the community.
Former Hinesburg Police Chief Chris Morrell said a few people questioned whether Warden spent extra time going for coffee. Morrell said the irony is how many police departments now have adopted “Coffee with a Cop” – the national program for police to connect with community members.
Morrell spent 15 years as the first full-time police chief in Hinesburg and he recalled how Warden helped the young department. He said Hinesburg often got hand-me-downs from Shelburne. Several Shelburne officers served part-time in Hinesburg and Warden set up work schedules to accommodate the needs of both communities. Morrell said his K-9 even worked part-time for Warden.
Two Selectboard members – chair Jerry Storey and Dr. Josh Dein – presented Warden the Haag Award as she looked on. In describing Warden’s tenure in Shelburne, Storey remarked that the former chief was both an arm of the law and a helping hand.
The current Selectboard voted 5-0 to give Warden the award, created two years ago after longtime Town Clerk Colleen Haag retired in order to recognize an individual each year for their service to the community.
“It means a lot to me,” Warden said to the crowd gathered for the occasion.
The award is fashioned in pewter after a silver bowl given to the town on its bicentennial in 1963 by the ninth Earl of Shelburne, England, a direct descendant of the town’s namesake from its chartering in the 18th century.
The inscription on Warden’s award in part, reads: “For Sharing Your Time, Talent and Energy to Our Community. For Inspiring Purpose. For Making a Difference.”
Calculating paper products
In his remarks, Warden shared some humorous tales such as recalling filling in as town manager, including one stint that required him to develop the annual budget along with Haag. He said they thought they prepared for every question before town meeting, but had no answer when asked from the audience how much the police department spent on paper towels and toilet paper.
Warden gave a tip of the hat to the town’s police officers and dispatchers. He said he was pleased that Shelburne voters in March rejected having the town join a proposed consolidated regional dispatch service for Chittenden County. Warden pointed out that Shelburne has run its own centralized dispatch for area police, fire and rescue agencies for many years.
Warden also commended the police department for being ahead of other departments around the state at times, such as in hosting an Explorer Post for police cadets to get hands-on training. Shelburne also was ahead with technology at times, such as in getting in-cruiser computers. Warden recalled the state needing time to catch up with that step and he commended dispatcher Jim Mack and Sgt. Frank Thornton for continuing to make sure Shelburne keeps up to date with computers and other electronic gear.
Final radio call
To mark the occasion, one of Saturday’s celebration organizers, Linda Riell, handed Warden several gifts including a special police-dressed Vermont Teddy Bear accompanied by a special stuffed police dog on a leash. Warden has a life-long love of dogs and for years taught obedience classes, which he continues to do today.
And just when it looked as if the celebration was over – one last surprise.
The tradition in law enforcement for long-serving officers is to have a final official radio sign-off, also known as “going 10-42” – the police term for going off duty.
Warden, whose radio call was unit 1, was handed a two-radio and called in one last time to Shelburne Central Dispatch.
The dispatcher responded: “Chief James Warden, thank you for your 54 years of law enforcement service and for 30 dedicated years of protecting and serving the citizens of Shelburne. From your loyal employees, thank you for leading us with compassion and humor. You made a huge impact on many of our lives, we are forever grateful for the opportunities you gave us. The amusing, entertaining and true stories you told us about your amazing career will live on in Shelburne PD folklore for decades to come.
“Chief, congratulations on an impressive career in law enforcement. Good show.
“Central to 1, you are 10-42,” the dispatcher said.