Robberies Leave Vermont on Edge

Vermont has endured one armed robbery almost every other day since Jan. 1. Though it is early in the year, the number of armed robberies in 2007 is expected to surpass the figures from 2005 and 2006 significantly given the current trend.

Armed hold-ups have occurred at convenience stores and small groceries throughout the state. Police attribute the high number of burglaries to the growing drug problem, as perpetrators are often in need of quick drug money.

Stores in Hinesburg, Richmond, Colchester and Burling-ton have been robbed.

Most locally, the Springflower Market was hit on Feb. 7, and the Cumberland Farms on Riverside Avenue on Feb. 5. While most cases have been solved, one crafty perpetrator remains on the loose.

Police have tagged the man responsible for four of the 20 robberies as the “Backwards Bandit”. He wears a backwards hooded sweatshirt with eye holes cut out of the hood.

Striking first on Jan. 22 in Hinesburg, the “Backwards Bandit” proceeded to rob three other stores within eight days. He seems to have terminated his streak, which could be the result of heightened presence from police.

However, the burglaries have continued.

“Some of this is copycat behavior,” Mike Schirling, a deputy chief of the Burlington Police Department said in The Burlington Free Press. “As these robberies receive more and more publicity, it does plant the seed in some peoples minds.”

Police suspect increased drug use is motivating the perpetrators. In the Jan. 29 Rut-land Herald, Vermont State Police Major Tom L’Esperance stated that other small states such Maine and New Hampshire have had similar experiences as drugs moved into their states. L’Esperance attributes the crimes specifically to the abuse of oxycodone and cocaine.

Mansur Aliyev of the Springflower Market on St. Paul Street in Burlington also attributes the rising robbery rate to drug use. “There are too many drugs,” he said, “the young people are using too many drugs.”

Springflower Market was robbed earlier this month and Aliyev worries that it could happen again.

Increased police patrols can bring some comfort to convenience store clerks, though stores must take many precautions. Police encourage stores to have bright exterior lighting, functioning surveillance systems and to report any suspicious activity to the police. In the case of a hold-up, clerks should comply with the robber.

While the Vermont State Police and local police departments are working hard, they say the public will play a critical role in helping to solve the cases. Tips and reports from citizens are extremely important, and anyone with any information is urged to contact the police or Champlain Val-ley CrimeStoppers at 802-864-6666.