Thursday March 06, 2014
One reason the February 18 South Burlington City Council meeting was held at the police station on Gregory Drive was to conduct a ribbon cutting for the city’s new prescription medication drop box, but another was to receive an update on the department from Police Chief Trevor Whipple.
Chief Whipple reported that a number of new people are coming onto the police force over the next several months; the department is 6 months ahead of schedule in terms of staffing. One officer will be on board in a month and another is currently in the police academy. This officer had moved his family to Vermont from Massachussetts after being hired by the Waterbury Police Department, but when the department decided to eliminate the position, South Burlington jumped in, conducted necessary steps including a background investigation, and asked him to come on board.
The Department has also hired a part time animal control officer for the first time in two years as well as an administrative support person which will free up half a day per week for Whipple. A new dispatcher will be on board in a week and the department is awaiting the results of the March 4, 2014 budget vote to see if hiring another officer will be possible. With these staffing additions, all three school resource officers have been able to return to their respective schools. “The small gains have been adding up,” Whipple said. This would bring the number of sworn officers in the South Burlington Police Department to 42. By comparison, the City of Burlington has 100 sworn officers.
Opiates and Crime
Whipple also addressed the increasing issue of opiate addiction, and its relation to increasing crime. The rising problem is no longer a secret, especially after Governor Shumlin made it the focus of his State of the State address. Recently, the documentary, The Hungry Heart was screened at South Burlington High School as part of a community conversation organized by PACT to openly discuss the way this issue is touching people. Whipple discussed the documentary and the power it has to eliminate the stereotypes associated with people who become addicted to opiates.
Whipple said it is a very important film and shows that this type of addiction affects many citizens in our community. From the perspective of law enforcement, there has been a shift in how issues of addiction and illegal drug use are being addressed. The Chief explained that departments have been concentrating on illegal narcotics traders/providers and doing whatever they need to do to prosecute or bring them to justice, but there is a different approach being taken with the users. “It used to be we were eager to get them behind bars,” Whipple said, “but often when people are in crisis, the point of arrest is the tipping point that will make them realize they need help…we give them options - they can get help or go to jail. Rather than treating them as criminals, we are working to get them help and on the road to recovery so they are no longer addicts.”
Linked to the opiate epidemic has been an uptick in crimes such as theft. Whipple keeps his eye on the 18 most common crimes daily and December 2013 and January 2014 were the two lowest months for crime in the City. Whipple likes to think optimistically that part of the decline has to do with progress in terms of treatment opportunities for opiate addicted individuals.
A high rate of theft of phones and electronic devices have been noted in the city. Councilor Nowak asked for an update on the Eco ATM in place at the University Mall where people can get immediate cash for electronics they drop in the box. The Chief said the operators of the ATM send a daily report to the Police Department voluntarily . This report includes the type of items that were deposited in the box along with a thumbprint and photo of the individual which makes it easier for law enforcement to find a person who dropped off stolen equipment. “It doesn’t make it easy, but easier to catch a perpetrator now,” Whipple said.
While Whipple had the floor, he also took the opportunity to remind the public that renewal for security alarm permits is required by April 1, 2014.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent