ADDISON — Close to 100 residents of Addison and other local towns attended the second of two forums this year dedicated to the frustrating problem of home break-ins, and this time they heard at least some good news from the dozen law enforcement officials on hand, including Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn and Col. Thomas L’Esperance, director of the Vermont State Police.
Lt. Gary Genova, VSP New Haven barracks commander, told the crowd state police had responded to only two burglaries in the county between Aug. 1 and 13 — and none in Addison, Panton or Ferrisburgh — since the early-August arrests of Raymond Ritchie, 37, of Addison and Lee A. Anderson Jr., 31, of Salisbury.
Before then, VSP had handled 103 break-ins in the first seven months of the year, with 28 in Addison, Panton and Ferrisburgh alone, Genova told the crowd. He added there have been 32 burglary arrests in the county between January 2012 and July 2013.
But the lull in burglaries does not mean town and county residents should relax, he stressed.
“Certainly, the arrest of these folks had a dramatic effect, but this is a multi-dimensional problem,” Genova said in a Wednesday interview. “We know … there are others that will take advantage of the community.”
Genova noted that a series of arrests earlier this year, including one of several suspects in Waltham with the cooperation of Vergennes police, created a similar lull. But police soon saw criminal activity return again, particularly in Addison, Panton and Ferrisburgh.
“We were able to certainly slow down the pace of the burglaries … through the work we were doing,” Genova said on Wednesday. “But it was short-lived.”
Meeting and Addison Neighborhood Watch co-organizer Lorraine Franklin agreed with Genova’s advice to remain vigilant. She said in a Wednesday interview that she is optimistic, but realistic.
“Absolutely that was a huge thing, how high it (the break-in rate) was, and it dropped right down. That was very encouraging,” Franklin said. “For now we can take a breather … But it’s not going to take long for someone to move into the territory.”
At the Tuesday forum, Commissioner Flynn and Vergennes Police Detective Jason Ouellette addressed the major underlying issue, one that law enforcement can do only so much to combat — drug addiction.
“The commissioner spoke a lot about that we know we do have a heroin problem,” Genova said. “There are other areas that need to be addressed.”
Again, Franklin echoed those concerns: She said with the state and area’s ongoing drug problem, Addison and other county towns will have to remain on guard.
“A lot of these people are addicts,” Franklin said. “All they care about is getting that next fix.”
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster, Department of Corrections Regional Supervisor Keith Tallon and members of the county’s legislative delegation in Montpelier also tried to address citizen concerns about the legal system, Genova said.
“(People) feel that law enforcement is doing a good job … but they’re frustrated because we seem to be seeing people all over again,” he said.
Franklin agreed that issue remains a sore spot among the area’s burglary victims, noting that one of the recent arrestees had 10 prior convictions on his record.
“That was a major, major, sticking point for a lot of people,” she said. “There was a lot of frustration, because some things in the system need to be fixed.”
Residents, Franklin said, generally took away the message they need to lobby legislators to pass better laws that will make it harder on repeat offenders.
“If you’re frustrated with the way things are … (the solution) comes from citizens demanding changes,” she said.
On Tuesday, five officers from the VSP New Haven barracks also spoke about issues that included thieves’ favorite targeted items, measures to protect homes, steps to catalog property in case of theft, and the challenges of recovering stolen property.
Franklin said generally such advice has been helpful, but some residents have over the months taken some of those steps, only to discover thieves were becoming smarter about finding hiding places recommended by police, another source of some frustration. For example, the Independent earlier this summer published a recommendation from a local trooper that people hide jewelry in unusual places, such as a shoebox in the top shelf of a child’s bedroom closet.
“It was great information but they (criminals) are hearing the same thing we’re hearing … That was a real concern for us,” she said. “It’s trying to keep that one step ahead.”
Shelburne Police Chief Jim Warden also offered tips for the Addison Neighborhood Watch, a group founded this spring that has divided the town into areas of responsibility under the leadership of citizen captains. The Addison selectboard also agreed earlier this summer to buy signs for the Watch effort.
“They’re really off to a good start putting together a Neighborhood Watch program,” Genova said.
Franklin said the Watch program is now “all in place” and should be able to help if — or when — thieves target Addison again.
“A lot of people are reporting things. That’s a huge step forward,” she said. “Now everybody’s taking a second look.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]