Tuesday November 6, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

SHAFTSBURY -- In response to what Select Board members said has been a dramatic increase in the number of burglary type offenses in the past year, they voted to increase the number of hours per week the Bennington County Sheriff's Department conducts patrols, and to have the commander of the local Vermont State Police barracks discuss options on forming a neighborhood watch.

From now until Jan. 3, sheriff's deputies will be on patrol for an added five hours per week. The department is already being contracted to supply a police presence for 20 hours per week. Board Chairman Lon McClintock said the added hours would cost the town about $1,000.

Board member Carl Korman said that while there was a dip in burglary, larceny, and suspicious person incidents reported to state police between 2009 and 2010, between 2009 and now burglaries were up 46 percent.

Between 2011 and 2012, they were up 280 percent, with five instances in 2011 and 19 in this year. He said larceny incidents and suspicious person reports were up as well. He said he was citing figures from state police.

The board had planned to have Vermont State Police Lt. Reginald Trayah present at its last meeting to discuss what townspeople can do to protect themselves, but that meeting was canceled ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Board member Karen Mellinger said Trayah was expected to talk along the same lines as he has done recently in Dorset, which had organized a neighborhood watch program in one of its more burglary prone areas.

"My immediate neighborhood is really hot to get some training," she said.

Mellinger was a victim of a burglary reported last month, along with a neighbor of hers. She abstained from the vote to add police presence.

"I have on a number of occasions chased someone out of my garage with a baseball bat," said board member Billy Obenauer, adding there's likely a safer way to handle such a problem that the police could teach.

Korman said before the board takes any serious action it should consult with police. He said they will have reliable information on how to organize a neighborhood watch and where signs can be purchased.

In the past, police have advised people take steps to make their homes appear occupied when they go away on trips such as having someone watch the place or installing motion sensor lights. Even so, many burglaries occur when the homeowners are away only a few hours.

Police advise community members keep track of who is around and to report immediately anything suspicious. Trayah has said a repeat problem is people report seeing a strange vehicle a day after the fact, and by then the trail is long cold. He said troopers would rather investigate numerous suspicious vehicles that turn out to be innocent rather than get called late to an actual theft.