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Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette

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BENNINGTON — Police Chief Paul Doucette and the Bennington Select Board will discuss the increased violence and drug-related crime in town when the chief provides his public safety update on Monday. During the 6 p.m. meeting at the Bennington Firehouse, the board also will hear from the area’s Opioid Response Team and “hub and spoke” network of addiction treatment services.

Drug and alcohol addiction and related drug trafficking are considered key factors in a perceived increase in crime locally and around the state and region.

The public safety update follows a number of recent high-profile drug-related and sometimes violent crimes, along with large-scale police raids and multiple arrests, continued drug overdose deaths, and incidents of gunfire in town.

Doucette and former Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Shirling told the Banner recently that there has been an uptick in violent crime locally and across the state, citing issues of drugs, mental health, guns, and a legal system that all contribute to the recent increase in shootings and violence.

“I’ve been here for over thirty-two years, and I’ve never seen the level of violence that we’re seeing now,” Doucette told the Banner. “I can tell you with one-hundred percent accuracy that there is an uptick in violence in Vermont. We have seen an uptick in drive-by shootings, where people are firing randomly at individuals or homes, most recently at the intersection of Main Street and McCall Street where there were numerous reports of shots fired, with officers recovering several spent 9mm casings. So far this year alone, we’ve had eight reports of gunfire. That’s never really happened in Bennington before.

“That sort of thing was almost non-existent.”

RAIDS, ARRESTS

On Thursday afternoon, Bennington police and personnel from other law enforcement organizations raided a Main Street residence as part of an ongoing drug investigation that included reports of gunshots fired at the apartment on July 1.

Doucette said after Thursday’s raid, during which an area of Main Street was sealed off by police, “The Bennington Police Department will continue working with community members, partnering with law enforcement agencies, and other community members in an ongoing effort to curb illicit drug activity in Bennington. The community demands action against people distributing drugs and committing violent acts. We will continue our efforts to make Bennington a safe community.”

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One of the suspects arrested Thursday was also picked up during another high-profile, early morning raid by police organizations in early April on three Bennington residences. Seven people were arrested at that time, and more than 500 bags of fentanyl, a loaded firearm, ammunition and various drug paraphernalia were seized.

After the April raid, Doucette said, “I think there’s a lot of positive things happening here in Bennington. These last three-to-five months have been a challenge for law enforcement for many reasons, staffing issues, the big jump in opiate and overdose deaths, not only here but across New England and the whole country. We need to find a way to slow down the opiate and heroin trade.”

He added, “The positive is we are seeing a lot more cooperation and coordination between federal, state and local authorities right now. Ultimately, that’s how we are going to solve this.”

IMPORTANT TOPIC

Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said in an email Friday, “Chief Doucette and Lt. [Cam] Grande have started coming to Select Board meetings to share updates in person. This is in addition to their written updates that go in the Select Board packets. I believe that this is the third or fourth time that they have shared information at Select Board meetings.”

The topic of public safety “is timely — particularly in light of what appears to be more crime in Southern Vermont,” Jenkins said.

“It is important for the full community to understand the steps that our police department continue to take to keep us safe. The update by the Bennington Police Department will also be helpful to the Community Policing Advisory Review Board as they begin their training work this week.”

The CPARB was created in March by the Select Board after a citizen task force recommended a format for the new seven-member town board, the members of which were named last month.

Following a series of training sessions for the CPARB members, the board is scheduled to hold its first meeting Oct. 27.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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