Norwich Police Sgt. Jennifer Frank graduated from the New Hampshire Police Academy in 2006 as the first woman to lead her entire class in academics and in fitness. The path leading from there to Norwich has two stops in between.
With graduation, her performance at the academy, background and temperament led to opportunity: a state-funded position at Plymouth State, focused on sexual assault and child pornography. She took a broad view, teaching classes on everything from alcohol abuse to study habits.
“I love that time frame,” she said of college students, “because they’re really trying to figure out who they are, and you get to be a part of that.”
But young people can make poor choices.
“You have a lot of chances to interact with people and provide them a chance to say, ‘Yeah, I screwed up but how do I make it better? How do I own where I’m at, own the action I took, but at the same time this does not have to define who I am?’ ”
Frank took advantage of her time at Plymouth State to earn a doctorate in education. Still, sexual assault and pornography cases took a toll. “You can ... start to question humanity,” she said.
In her next job as school resource officer in Windsor, Frank said found a fresh start in community-centered work that also combined law enforcement and teaching. Again, she took an unconventional approach.
“It was helping somebody to get enough food to get through the weekend,” she said, “or helping individuals get a car ride to get to where they needed to get to. I went to a lot of 8-year-old birthday parties.”
When Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson called to discuss an opening, Frank said she was reluctant; she loved Windsor. He told her that as he looked toward his own eventual retirement, he wanted to bring in a leader.
“I came here and just fell in love with the community,” she said. “… In some way it felt like a community that was designed for me and I was designed for -- a community that is seeking that relationship with their police department.”
The pace of policing in Norwich also suits her.
“We’re busy,” she said, “but not so busy that you can’t engage in community activities -- that I can’t get out and go sledding with kids at Huntley Meadow, or stop and have a cup of coffee with somebody at the Blue Sparrow or King Arthur.”
It was growing dark when Frank, in her cruiser, noticed a car approaching with its headlights off.
“She should really have those lights on,” she said. “Someone’s going to hit her.”
Frank flicked her own lights as the car passed; the driver didn’t get the hint. She reversed direction, caught up, and activated her blues. The driver pulled over in a spot that obstructed an intersection. A second bad decision, Frank said as she stepped from her cruiser.
“She’s just having a rough day,” Frank reported when she returned with the driver’s license. “She was crying before I got there.”
It could have gotten rougher. The license was two months expired.
Frank decided to issue only a warning. It was a case of distraction, she reasoned, not negligence. She returned the license and exchanged a few words before the driver pulled out -- with lights on -- to continue on her way.
It was still early in Frank’s shift -- but already the start of one more relationship.