Rutland residents nervous about increase in crime

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(Host) Patrick Leahy and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter — the two most powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — are in Rutland this morning to hear what state and local leaders have to say about the increase in drug related violent crime.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports – many local residents welcome the chance to shine a light on what they call a growing problem.

(Keck) Max Schlueter is director of the Vermont Crime Information Center. While most urban areas across the country have seen a decline in violent crime, rural areas are seeing the opposite. He says Vermont, in particular, has seen a dramatic increase.

(Schlueter) "For example, we went from seven murders to 12 murders between 2005 and 2006. Robbery was up 55 percent, rapes were up 3 percent, aggravated assaults up 7 percent.."

(Keck) Schlueter says considering the trend in larger cities, it’s not clear why smaller towns are seeing a jump. But he says the data are sobering.

(Schlueter) "What police are reporting anecdotally is that the nature of the crime is more dangerous, in a sense, that there are more armed crimes, the amount of drugs involved in crimes is more – the seriousness of the drugs involved are more serious. So I think there are two sides to analysis. One is the statistical analysis and the other is the image that law enforcement personnel can provide on the street."

(Keck) Rutland is by no means the only city in Vermont dealing with the issue, but four recent violent episodes — including two deaths — have made locals jumpy. At Rutland’s public library Anna Duprey says she recently moved back to Rutland after seven years in Fair Haven. Sitting with her son, she says crime is much more of a concern.

(Duprey) "It’s an issue to me especially when I live right downtown. I’ve seen over the years that the streets have changed in seven years. And I hear a lot of noise at night – of fighting on the streets and, you know, different things. And in my apartment building where I live, I’m afraid to go outside."

(Keck) Dave Engles has lived in Rutland for 18 years and he, too, says crime has become troubling. He says neighbors are doing more to watch each other’s houses and local community associations have begun meeting to talk about what can be done. Engles also appreciates that by meeting in Rutland, the Senate Judiciary Committee is putting the issue in the national spotlight.

(Engles) "It’s nice to know that we’re putting some of our time and money into solving some of the problems at home. And maybe we can come up with some kind of format that would work for other cities and towns because I don’t think it’s going to get any better. I think it’s going to get worse unless we start concentrating on issues like that."

(Keck) The hearings begin at 9 this morning at the Howe Center in Rutland. The public is welcome.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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