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EXCLUSIVE: Rutland Mayor: 8 in 10 retail thefts substance abuse-related

By Michael Bielawski,

On an appearance on the Morning Drive radio show last week Rutland Mayor Democrat Mike Doenges revealed some striking data points about the ongoing retail theft issues facing the shopping sector, including that 8 in 10 retail thefts are to feed a drug habit.

Also, nearly a third are repeat offenders. He said, “What the data shows very, very clearly, I can’t emphasize that enough, is that most of our retail thefts, 80% of them, are known substance abusers. Out of most of those retail thefts, 30% of them are repeat offenders. So those two data points are really important.”

He said he supports H. 579 which allows prosecutors to aggregate stolen goods across multiple thefts which would deny thieves the ability to avoid felony charges by stealing less than $900 in goods during each incident. Rep. Thomas Burditt, R-West Rutland, is the lead sponsor, it is on the StateHouse committee agendas again this week.

Doenges also suggested that efforts to hold these offenders accountable should include services to help them deal with their addictions.

He said, “For repeat offenders, consolidation is a big deal. But if we’re going to consolidate and incarcerate based on higher crime then we need to treat while in incarceration. Have a treatment program while in incarceration to work with these people who are stealing to feed a habit.”

A co-host of the show Kurt Wright, a former state and city lawmaker, agreed with the sentiment that repeat offenders are largely getting away with their crimes.

“We hear the same thing in Burlington and in South Burlington, there’s a rotating group that are doing it over and over and over again and it seems like, why? Because they can,” he said.

Doenges related to the behavior of drug-addicted criminals to young children who aren’t facing consequences for bad behavior.

“When our officers are talking to these people you can see those child-like thought processes because maybe somewhere in their upbringing or just in their life they haven’t had or learned the skill to change that behavior,” he said. “That’s why they are doing it.”

Car thefts in Rutland

Doenges was asked how auto thefts are going in Rutland. There was an uptick in those briefly last year but since it has leveled out.

“So we’ve had a little rash of auto-theft around the Rutland area around October which I actually think was the final straw for people, they were like this is just out of control,” he said. “It’s gone down since then, our auto thefts have stayed pretty steady. He said there are usually about two a month.

He said depending on the language, he may support additional legislation from Montpelier to specify auto theft as a separate category of crime separate from other thefts. Wright noted that Vermont is one of the only states in the nation not to have such a law.

The Statehouse is currently working on H. 558, which aims to create new penalties for entering a car without the owner’s consent. Rep. Martin Lalonde, D-South Burlington, is the lead sponsor.

Community watch groups

Doenges was also asked about community watch groups which have been around in the city for a few years mostly helping to report crimes so police can respond. He said overall it’s been a positive development.

“What’s really cool about it is it’s people who care about their communities who are trying to do things to make things better,” he said.

Rutland City Patrol is one such group that he mentioned. Their Facebook page is here.

“They do a good job of helping out local businesses and residents just keep an eye on things,” Doenges said. “We are trying to get it to be tied in with the Neighborhood Watch Program so we’ve got our department going back through and becoming part of the Sheriff’s Association again and that’s where the Neighborhood Watch Program comes from.”

The author is a writer for the Vermont Daily Chronicle


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