Criminal activity rises

  While criminal activity in the city of Burlington has increased, enforcement has lagged in response, according to Burlington Police Department statistics.   Police Chief Michael Schirling appealed to the Vermont State Legislature in Dec. 2011, explaining that criminals have been “riding roughshod over our communities.”   Crime rates increased across the board in 2011 compared to previous years. During the first nine months of 2011, 38 percent more homes were burglarized than during the same time period two years ago, Schirling’s report stated.   Even more alarming is the higher number of aggravated assaults in the Queen City, which experienced an increase of 138 percent in 2011, compared to two years prior, according to an article in Seven Days.   Schirling described the judicial system as a “revolving door,” which he said has contributed to Vermont’s high rate of recidivism.   Approximately two-thirds of the criminal population in Vermont returned to jail within three years of their original incarceration, according to a study released last year by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center.   Schirling said a perpetual drug presence and a more accessible market have bolstered the crime rate.   The crime rate has steadily increased in recent years due in part to an ineffectual judicial system that fails to hold accountable those who commit crimes, according to Schirling, which he said fails to provide a “credible threat of punishment.”   “We can’t convincingly say to someone that you’ll end up in jail if you continue acting this way,” Schirling said. “They know it’s not going to happen.”   Chittenden County State Attorney T.J. Donovan agreed that the core objectives of the criminal justice system—”to provide a window of opportunity for people to get sober, to get healthy, to get a job and education, to become taxpaying members of the community”—have not been fully met.   “We’ve become the safety net and are being asked to deal with drug abuse, poverty, homelessness, lack of education and mental illness,” he said.   Another contributing factor to the system’s ineffectiveness is the state of Vermont’s correctional facilities, which are at full capacity. One-quarter of the State’s 2,100 incarcerated residents are housed in facilities in Massachusetts and Kentucky.   Accordingly, resources in this sector are stretched thin and can’t adequately provide necessary restorative justice.   “We know that putting people in jail makes them worse when they come out,” Margaret Jansch, director of the Chittenden County Public Defender Office, said in an article that appeared in Seven Days.   The higher crime rates seem to be due in large part to systemic problems.   “It isn’t anyone’s fault,” Schirling said.   Mitigating the impact of crime on the quality of life for Burlington residents isn’t easy.   At UVM, the Office of Student and Community Relations seeks to educate students about the realities of living off-campus, including how students can protect themselves and their property from crime.   Director of Student and Community Relations Gail Shampnois said that taking precautions could drastically decrease the potential of becoming a victim of crime, particularly in the case of theft.   She suggested that students should be diligent in locking their vehicles and homes and that they should also register the serial numbers of their belongings with either UVM Police Services or the Burlington Police Department. That way, students know where stolen goods can be returned if recovered.   Shampnois also stressed the importance of reporting any crimes that are committed, which allows authorities to evaluate any patterns that arise and tailor their prevention strategies accordingly.   Junior Carrie Wilkinson knows all-too-well the unfortunate reality of increasing crime in Burlington. Both she and her roommate had their computers stolen out of their third-floor apartment in August.   She said the perpetrator climbed through their kitchen window, the only unlocked point of entry in their apartment.   “We make sure that we keep the windows and doors locked all the time, no matter what,” Wilkinson said.   She said she now takes precautions to minimize the potential of falling victim to a similar crime, but that she doesn’t feel any less safe.   Despite the increased rate of crime in Burlington, Schirling contends that the general public is at no greater risk of falling victim to violent crimes, which he claims tend to befall a certain subset of residents.   “Walking down the street, are you more likely to be a crime victim? No, you’re not,” Schirling said.   Shampnois echoed Schirling’s statement, adding that locking doors and windows is the best deterrence mechanism for theft.