BRATTLEBORO — Burglaries at Evan James Ltd. Diamond Jewelers & Goldsmiths are among some of the crimes causing community members to call for more policing action downtown.
Evan James, owner, said the first burglary occurred at 4 a.m. May 30; someone broke the window shared with Latchis Theatre and entered the building then stole items of jewelry and smashed a showcase glass. The second happened at about 4 a.m. June 2; someone broke a window out front, stole jewelry and broke another showcase glass.
This is the first time James’ store has been burglarized in his nearly 35 years of business. He estimates the value of the theft and damage to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“I’ve been noticing the town is in steep decline for at least five years and in the last year, it’s gotten much worse,” he said. “I think the direct blame should go on the leadership of the town in terms of not allowing the police department to adequately do their jobs. They’re underbudgeted, undermanned and overworked. That in couple with the catch and release attitude in the judicial system, where there are people walking around with little or no bail who shouldn’t be walking our streets.”
James said he thinks the Brattleboro Police Department is doing “an excellent job” and the hiring of Police Chief Norma Hardy was “great” for the town but he doesn’t believe police are being given enough resources to “restore order in our beautiful Vermont town.”
“Let them do the job they were hired to do, which is to ensure safety and security of the town and its permanent residents, the taxpayers of the town,” he said.
Any information on the burglaries should be provided to BPD Det. Joshua Lynde at 802-246-4202. James said he’s offering a substantial cash reward for tips that lead to the arrest and conviction of whomever is responsible for the crimes.
Due to the vandalism, the store will be closed until June 17 for renovations. James also hired private security and Zero, a guard dog from Green Mountain K-9, will be spending nights at the store.
James is far from being alone in his concerns about crime downtown. Select Board member Tim Wessel is urging the town to start looking into solutions right away.
“I live downtown and I have to say there’s an increase in the feeling of lawlessness occurring,” he said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “Whether it’s flower pots being overturned, business windows being smashed, unlocked cars being rifled through, or loud cars speeding recklessly through family neighborhoods, a lot of folks have been reaching out to me to say that it feels a little more like the Wild West in Brattleboro, and I agree.”
Wessel told the Reformer he thinks looking into police shifts should be part of upcoming conversations with Hardy, however, he believes the issue currently is more about staffing levels.
Last June, the Brattleboro Police Department changed its shift schedules. Mark Carignan, who recently retired but was interim chief at the time, said the department would always respond to life-threatening emergencies but there will be some times when no officers will be out patrolling and there could be delays in getting to other calls.
Details on shifts haven’t been made public. Carignan previously said hours of reduced coverage would be based on call data — related to both volume and type — and some hours there would be “significantly reduced coverage.”
On Tuesday, Hardy declined to comment on staffing issues. She said she has made no changes to any shifts at this time.
Hardy also noted that vehicle break-ins and burglaries of businesses have been an ongoing issue in Brattleboro that predated her arrival last year.
“I’ve been dealing with this with people in the neighborhoods since I’ve been here,” she said. “We address each and every situation as they arise.”
She noted that even if staffing of her department was at optimal levels, these issues would continue.
“These problems are everywhere, not just in Brattleboro,” said Hardy.
She also noted that many times, vehicle break-ins are being committed by just one or two people who have addiction issues or are struggling with mental illness and don’t have jobs or safe places to live.
“There is a lack of mental health, addiction and housing services across the country,” she said. “It’s not just one factor.”
Hardy said the department is conducting an investigation into the burglaries at Evan James’ store, which includes reviewing surveillance footage.
She encourages anyone concerned about safety to install some kind of surveillance system, while acknowledging the community has to find a balance between safety and privacy.
“We are doing the best we can, giving everybody equal time and effort,” said Hardy.
She pointed out that it is not illegal in Vermont for someone to enter an unlocked vehicle.
However, she said, if someone smashes a window or jimmies a door lock, that is illegal.
Hardy said if people want to see the law changed, they need to work with their local legislators, and this is also true for the criminal justice system.
“Judges and prosecutors have rules they have to follow, too,” she said, which means you can’t just lock up people without due cause.
Renee Woliver, operations director at the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro, said her group worries about safety at the Transportation Center and Snow Block housing development on Flat Street. She described “lawless activity” continuing over the last year and increasing with the warm weather.
“We work on Flat Street and can attest to the ongoing public drug use, alcohol use, sales, intoxication, littering, loitering and overall nuisance and disruption of the peace,” Woliver said at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, adding that teens from the club are being offered drugs. “True compassion cannot exist without mutual respect. The behavior and activity on Flat Street is not respectful and is in fact against the law.”
Woliver recommended having more of police presence downtown and discouraging unwanted behavior.
Dick DeGray of Brattleboro is requesting that the town install security cameras downtown. He recently had to replace flowers after they were dumped out of buckets he fills as part of Downtown Brattleboro Alliance’s beautification efforts.
“The Transportation Center is a mess,” he said of the parking facility downtown. “We have people sleeping in there. People really feel unsafe.”
He volunteered to be part of a task force if the town starts one.
Dora Bouboulis of Brattleboro warned that things will likely get worse because of current economic conditions. Greg Worden, co-owner of Vermont Artisan Designs, called for better patrolling of the downtown.
“I think the board hears loud and clear, and we should ensure that we have further conversation on this soon,” Select Board Ian Goodnow said in response to the comments.