By Katy Savage
After Rutland city residents were prevented from speaking at a contentious town hall at the Paramount Theater Nov. 2 Mayor Mike Doenges is planning to hold a second meeting at the Rutland Recreation Community Center on Nov. 29 for people to ask direct questions about an uptick in crime in the city.
“The biggest concern that people had in that meeting is repeat offenses and seeing the same individuals and people committing those crimes not being held accountable,” Doenges said. “We’re doing what we can at the city level with every tool that we have available to us.”
City leaders attempted to control a rowdy crowd at the Paramount Theater on Nov. 2.
Doenges said they would not answer the residents’ questions directly, leading to outrage and constant interruptions from the packed audience.
City leaders said the largest issue with crime in Rutland is that state laws are too lax, especially for repeat offenders. A police staffing shortage in Rutland, combined with the state run hotel program, which allows hotel owners to receive vouchers for housing homeless, is contributing to an uptick in crime.
Absentee landlords are also part of the problem.
“Our office, just like the department of corrections, has suffered staffing shortages at the same time we are seeing new cases,” Rutland Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said at the meeting.
Doenges said most crime in Rutland is petit larceny, involving people stealing from cars, front porches and entryways.
“The biggest challenge we have in Rutland is its petty crime,” Doenges said in an interview after the meeting. “Eighty percent of retail theft is known substance abusers. Our violent crimes have remained about what they have been in the past.”
People further sounded off at a Board of Aldermen meeting on Nov. 6.
“The town hall was a farce,” resident Bob Pearo said.
Resident Kelley Cross asked the board to stop stonewalling residents.
“It was clear it was a dog and pony show,” Cross said. “It was utterly insulting that we were told at the town hall meeting that we just need to lock our doors and get brighter lights and we won’t be victims of crime. There are members of this community who are out patrolling our streets just because our police officers are so overworked and understaffed.”
The police department is currently down three officers and Doenges said the city is also looking to add two more positions.
The board went into executive session Nov. 6 to discuss raising police pay. Doenges said another discussion will be held in executive session at the next Aldermen meeting.
“I think everybody recognizes that as a necessity,” Doenges said.
He said he hopes to hire officers already working in Vermont because hiring from out of state could take three to six months for new hires to complete Vermont Police Academy training.
The city has made efforts to attract officers with free passes to Killington Resort and free gym memberships.
“We’ve tried to make our department attractive,” Doenges said.
Doenges said he hasn’t been a victim of a crime but shares the concern about his personal property. “This is the situation in our town,” he said. “There’s certainly been instances where we were at home and we felt like we needed to lock our doors at night. We’re doing those things and we’re sad we have to do these things. We’re feeling like that potential exists and myself and the city residents don’t feel comfortable.”
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, said the blame lies within the Legislature.
He’s planning to introduce a bill that would allow courts to consider previous offenses when considering charges against a person. Collamore said the bill would target repeat offenders.
“If it’s their first charge, I’m in favor of giving people a second chance,” Collamore said.
Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, plans to introduce a similar bill in the House that would make repeating small crimes a higher charge.