Town responds to rising thefts
Students are often victims
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 22:04
The rise in local crime has residents worried and law enforcement talking.
Burlington's Neighborhood Planning Assembly conducted a special panel about the increase in crime and ways to prevent becoming a victim at Edmunds Middle School April 12.
Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling opened the meeting by saying that increased crime is no longer just a threat now, as it might have been a year ago, but a serious problem.
Local burglaries have increased over the past three years, with 247 reports in 2009, just fewer than 300 in 2010, and a jump to 380 in 2011, Schirling said.
“We’ve seen a little more recklessness the past few months with burglars,” he said, including breaking into homes in broad daylight without checking to see if people are inside.
While Schirling noted that other crime is “relatively flat,” the police department is seeing a similar trend in the number of mental health responses per year, which rose from 328 in 2010 to 447 in 2011.
The biggest challenge is a concurrent increase in substance abuse, especially opium, he said. Another issue is that many of the crimes are perpetrated by career criminals who max-out of corrections and go back to the streets.
Schirling acknowledged that college students are a target for burglars because so many of them own electronic gadgets and adhere to a laid-back lifestyle.
He said officers tell students one simple tip to keep valuables protected: ‘Like it, lock it.’
Matt Young works at the nonprofit Howard Center in Burlington, which provides a range of treatment services for addicts and those with mental health issues.
Young spoke about the importance of preventing crimes before they happen and of securing spots at treatment facilities across the state for those who need them.
Right now, most Vermont facilities have waiting lists, and the statewide corrections budget of $140 million is a small pot of money for a larger and larger pool of criminals, Young said.
“Prescription drug abuse is the main problem,” he said. “It’s becoming an epidemic.”
More people now die from opium abuse than driving-related deaths across the state, Young said.
There is a “small window” for getting people treatment, and it is important to have a system in place for drug abusers because they want to seek the treatment on their time, he said.
UVM Dean of Students David Nestor addressed what some local residents feel is an equally troubling development: the crimes being committed by university students in Burlington.
“It’s true that students are both victims and perpetrators,” said Nestor. “We work closely with BPD to hold students accountable.”
One of the problems this year has been “glitches” in the data systems and sharing of information between UVM and BPD in an attempt to monitor student crime. Because some data has not been updated as consistently this year, Nestor admits that they have taken “a step back.”
High-density student housing in Burlington has been an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed and may be contributing to crimes committed by students, he said.
Nestor also noted University efforts to build housing and pull students out of the community, but said he was disappointed by the actions of three UVM students who vandalized the new Redstone Loft construction site.
“As we know from this past week, the traditional college population can be perfectly good citizens one part of the day and make some really bad choices later,” he said.
Nestor dismissed community concerns that the University is lax with respect to off-campus student activity. He said that 80 percent of UVM policy violations are drug and alcohol related and that approximately 250 infractions occur per year.