BRATTLEBORO — Drug deals, panhandlers, burglaries, vandalism, and a carjacking at the Transportation Center brought residents to a recent Selectboard meeting, demanding action and answers.
“The people in the community are asking for your help and it doesn't happen,” former board member and chair Dick DeGray told the board at its May 16 meeting, two days after the parking garage incident.
The board in recent years has shown “so much inactivity” on the crime issue, DeGray said, adding that he'd come before the board a year ago, and even before that, asking that Transportation Center cameras be put on the agenda.
That latest request, he said, “took six weeks, which was quite appalling to me.”
“The damage to downtown makes me very concerned for our community and you should be very concerned,” DeGray said. “There's more than the Transportation Center going on.”
“We have businesses with plywood over their windows,” he said.
He also brought up graffiti and said that no sooner does Department of Public Works staff clean up defaced public property than “the next day, it's back up.”
“Our town is the worst looking town that I've traveled to in two years,” DeGray said.
Resident Mark Younger noted he'd spoken to Town Manager John Potter about the downtown situation, alleging that he's seen people “almost attacked by addicts begging for money.”
“We need more presence,” he said. “Why isn't that happening?”
Crime on the rise
Property crimes have risen this year to as many as 55 incidents a month, according to town records. Brattleboro Police say reports of assaults were up by 15% and sexual crimes up by 26% from 2021 to 2022. Burglaries, from cash register drawers to catalytic converters, nearly doubled, from 59 to 108, in the same period, statistics show.
Since the Selectboard meeting, police arrested Kyle J. Rice, 19, of Brattleboro on suspicion of stealing a car by knifepoint at the Transportation Center.
Police said they responded to the parking garage at 3:45 p.m. on May 14 when the victim said she had been threatened by a man with a large knife who demanded her car keys.
Rice was arrested May 24 after police executed a search warrant at a residence on Ledgewood Heights Road, according to a news release from the Brattleboro Police Department.
Police also said the silver Hyundai Elantra that Rice is alleged to have stolen has not been located and asks anyone with information on the vehicle's whereabouts to call the police.
Rice was arraigned the next day and, after a not-guilty plea, was released. He must live with and be in the company of his father at all times, remain inside the house 20 hours a day, and have no contact with the crime victim, among other conditions.
Potter started the meeting by saying the board has signed a $75,000 contract for 13 cameras to replace those already in place “to provide complete coverage of the building” at the Transportation Center.
On June 6, said Potter, he'll bring a proposal to the board to add Department of Public Works staff and hire private security personnel to “supplement police patrols.”
“This would give the town a constant presence with eyes and ears at this location,” he said, adding staff members “believe this would be a viable and cost-effective approach” and provide “a positive benefit for a place that's been seeing more than its fair share of unacceptable behaviors occurring.”
Police Chief Norma Hardy attended the meeting online, saying, “some things need to be clarified and cleared up.”
Hardy said accusations that there are too few - if any - officers on foot patrol in town are “not completely true.”
“I personally do walk downtown,” said the Chief, adding that she has “removed people doing things they shouldn't be doing at the Transportation Center.”
Hardy said her department, budgeted for 27 officers but currently with just 17, is working to add to the ranks but that it takes time.
“We do try to have as many patrols as we can,” she said. “But I've been short-staffed so much, I am only starting to be able to fill some of our empty ranks.”
Currently, said Potter, the town is “ramping up” the police force with the goal of having six to eight potential officers at the Vermont Police Academy this fall.
The process takes months before an officer is trained, graduated, hired, and able to be on the street, so the idea is to use private security, notably at the Transportation Center, to “expand our ability to know when something is happening” so police “can be called in” when needed, said Potter.
“We need to be smart about how we're directing resources,” he said, adding that two officers were scheduled to return to the force June 1.
“The idea for the added security is another tool for us to utilize - not instead of police, but in addition to - to be our eyes and ears down at the Transportation Center,” Hardy said. “We are still answering calls all over Brattleboro, not just downtown.”
Board Clerk Peter Case said he's met with residents, and Hardy, to discuss safety concerns revolving around children and creating “safety zones,” focusing on “trying to create a pilot program” at the Transportation Center.
“It becomes a land use issue,” Case said, adding that he has an 85-year-old father who parks his vehicle in the garage.
Vice Chair Franz Reichsman noted the process of looking at the town's overall emergency management services “system,” saying he “has faith in the process” and board members take the issue “very seriously.”
He invited all to participate and added, “I don't think this will be murky at all. I think this will be clear and allow people to express their concerns […] we want to hear from you.”
Reichsman invited all with concerns to meet with him on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Brooks Memorial Library, 224 Main St., or on Fridays from 8 to 10 a.m. at The Works, 118 Main St.
“Just show up,” he said.