Violence... In Vermont?
Story and photos by Michelle Besaw
Ranked as the safest state, Vermont has begun to see violent crimes. Although these crimes extend from bank robberies to home break-ins, they all have one thing in commonguns. Armed robberies have swept through northern Vermont totaling 22 since November 1 of 2005.
There appears to be a trend in convenient store robberies as a Winooski Champlain Farms was robbed three times in January alone; all three robberies are speculated to have been committed by the same masked person who, at the time of the robbery, pointed a gun directly at the clerk. A Fastop Gulf station was robbed at knife-point early February in Winooski as well, which was the fifth armed robbery in the town since October.
“Desperate people do desperate things.”
Home break-ins have been another trend as a strip of Essex homes was robbed. The suspects stole $10 thousand in property and wounded a German Shepard in attempts to open a door with gun shots.
Banks have also seen some attention from the recent sweep of armed robberies. A Bennington Chittenden bank was robbed early November and although a gun was not presented, the note said the robber was armed. In Rutland, an armed man robbed the Factory Point National Bank and fled on foot. And it's not only the banks getting robbed, but the customers as well. In Milton, two armed men robbed a Zachary's restaurant employee as he attempted to make a night drop at the Chittenden Bank early in the morning.
The double homicide in Montgomery in late October is a horrifying example of the deadly force accompanied with armed crimes. Police arrested murder suspects James Richitelli, 51, and Elizabeth Gagne, 29, of Connecticut for the deaths of Valerie Pappillo, 36, and Thomas Patras, 47. “Anytime somebody resorts to an armed confrontation, whether it is an armed robbery or whatever, they're bringing a higher probability that serious injury or death could occur,” said lieutenant and detective Edward Ledo of the Vermont State Police Department. “Desperate people do desperate things.”
Figures show that in one month alone, Vermont has seen eleven armed crimes. According to Brian Joyce of Channel 3 News, if the trend continues, Vermont will have over 130 armed robberies in 2006. While the number may not seem large, it is eight times as many as 2005. “The dynamic of the state is changing; it's getting more populated. People are moving in from all over the country and with that they bring an increase in not only problems, be it traffic congestion, but also crime that comes with it,” said Ledo.
How do we explain all these armed crimes? Vermont police officers link the crimes to drugs and narcotics. “The recent arrests and the subjects that have been arrested were drug addicted to some of the more serious drugs:cocaine and heroin. These people, their habits grow, their dependence on the drug grows and with that they need more money,” said Lt. Ledo. “Property crimes and burglaries can net them certain property in order to pawn or sell, but it's a lot quicker to hold up a convenient store or gas station for cash that's more readily available.”
Bigger risks and multiple robberies in the same place are red flags. The money is also thought to be used for the purchase of prescription pain killers, which include highly addictive OxyContin, and others. Heroin use has also been a concern. People are becoming addicted and need cash to maintain the habit.
In Milton, officers organized an undercover operation which led to the arrest of seven people involved in selling or possession of drug charges. Other arrests included two men involved in the hold up of the Zachary's employee who were later linked to the charges of cultivation and possession of marijuana. According to Ledo, law enforcers are taking steps to halt the increasing number of armed robberies. “A lot of it is basically your routine police work, your investigations, your police involvement through Crime Stoppers, and public awareness. As soon as we have these, you have to put your officers in the area and find the person and the vehicle they were described as being in, and basically saturate the area and follow-up on leads.”
There has also been community involvement. “There are a lot more community forums and outreach programs to try to educate the community on what steps they can take to protect themselves and their property and try to calm some of the fears that are out there.”
“It's not the same state I grew up in.”
With the obvious upswing of gun-related violence should we have to worry about the nearing future of Vermont 's safety? As it has been commonly known as being the safest state in the country Vermont is seeing a different side of crime. Lt. Ledo said, “it's not the same state I grew up in.”
A Few Related Facts:
Vermont has the least restrictive gun-control law. It gives the right to any Vermonter unless otherwise prohibited, to carry concealed weapons without a permit or license.
Vermont has one of the lowest crime rates in America, ranking 49 out of 50 in all crimes and 47th in murders.
In 1994, Vermont had the lowest juvenile arrest rate with 24 per 100,000 juveniles. (ncpa.org)
In the Northeast in 2005 violent crime went down .9%, murder went up 1.9%, robbery went up 1.0%, property crime went down 4.2%, and burglary went down 4.8%.
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