By Michael Bielawski
Ed Dumas, the chief of police for Rutland Town, spoke with Keep Vermont Safe on Monday evening to talk about how crime trends are going especially in regards to their ongoing hotel voucher program for the homeless.
The city is struggling in part because of the program that was meant to provide additional housing for those in need during the COVID-19-related shutdowns.
Lots of new homeless people, no end in sight
“I was told that Rutland County has 268 homeless people,” Dumas said. “They were put here, they are not all from Rutland. They’ve come from all over the state and other places too.”
He said there are 150 rooms being rented out to the homeless at the Cortina Inn. He feels that the hotel is benefiting but its clients and the community are not so much.
Police Chief Ed Dumas inside Cortina Inn - Rutland Herald
“Say he’s got 130 rooms rented right now [he suggested that’s a conservative estimate], at $169 a night, so do the math,” he said. “My point is, these hotels are making millions off this program, and the state is not getting their money’s worth and neither are these people.”
So far it is unclear when the taxpayer-funded program will end.
“I was told it was going to end in March and it’s still going on,” he said. “This next one is going to end when? In September? I don’t know when it’s going to end.”
The state’s cold-weather vouchers are going to start again soon, meaning those in the hotels will likely remain for the foreseeable future.
“As far as I know, they are not going to throw these families out in the streets,” he added.
Crime is going up, lack of consequences
Meanwhile, crime is going up.
“If you look at the years prior to that it is nothing compared to what it is now, so in August of this year, we spent 91% of our time in the south end of town dealing with issues from thefts and everything that happens in the south end since they’ve started housing these people,” Dumas said.
He noted that the laws dealing with how crime suspects are treated in the court systems have turned sometimes favorable for the criminals.
“We give people citations to appear in court but they don’t appear in court,” he said.
Keep Vermont Safe has recently inquired with the state about an uptick in reported failure-to-appears for court dates.
Dumas said maybe if the suspect fails to appear in court for a second time then there can be a warrant for arrest.
He noted that criminals seem privy to the penalties including the thresholds for theft to be classified as a felony.
“They raised the amount to over $900 to be a felony and they are just gobbing up our businesses,” Dumas said.
He noted that the expungement of criminal records is also being abused.
“If they do [get prosecuted] their records are expunged within six months, it’s like they’ve never done anything,” Dumas said. “So a habitual offender can do this over and over and over again. How many chances do we have to give them?”
Masking helps criminals
He shared that since the introduction of face masks during COVID-19, now criminals have an excuse to keep masking for committing crimes which makes them more difficult to identify from photos or camera footage.
“Usually the young healthy people, they don’t need a mask,” he noted.
Clerk is punished for pursuing a thief
He noted that the companies generally don’t want their employees to get injured so they tell them not to interfere with any apparent theft. He shared a story that one young lady ended up getting fired from Joan Fabrics because she witnessed a theft and decided to pursue the perpetrator.
“The girl [the perpetrator] whipped out a box cutter and threatened to cut her,” he said. “So the girl with the box cutter got arrested and went to jail for a period of time, but the young lady who confronted her got fired,” he said.
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle.