The Caledonian Record reports that as fuel costs continue to climb, the St. Johnsbury fire and police departments are "working to cut consumption without compromising safety." For example, St. Johnsbury police officers are doubling up in cruisers and leaving one parked when possible and are on foot when looking for crime at night. "The St. Johnsbury Fire Department is also looking at ways to conserve fuel. Daily errands and inspections have been consolidated to reduce the amount of time on the street for all vehicles." In addition, "firefighters are using the chief's pickup to attend training or are car pooling" and "the number of out-of-town meetings are being scrutinized and the department is attempting to use more phone conferences."
The Bennington Banner and Vermont Public Radio report that each year the annual Click It Or Ticket campaign aims to "increas[e] the rate of motorists wearing seat belts and reduc[e] the number of injuries and fatalities on roads across the country." During the two-week campaign, an additional 44 police officers will be on the roads. These officers will pull over drivers to perform safety checks, during which cars are "checked for wipers, lights, car seats, safety belts, [and] all safety features."
"The extra officers are made possible through federal funding that is distributed through the National Highway Safety Program." Notably in Bennington, "after last year's campaign, seat belt use in the area went from 82 percent to 85 percent. This year, the numbers look better: It appears that nearly 90 percent are buckled up." Statewide last year, 87% of the people pulled over were wearing safety belts compared to 65% six years ago.
State gets funds for seat belt use
Vermont Public Radio reports that "the state is receiving $3.7 million from the federal government as a bonus for transportation and public safety programs." The bonus is in response to the success of the state's seat belt campaign called Click It of Ticket campaign. "During the latest campaign 87.3 percent of motorists were wearing their seat belts." According to Gov. Jim Douglas, this number represents the "highest rate of seat belt use ever documented in Vermont." Notably, "it was the second consecutive year Vermont exceeded the 85 percent threshold, making the state eligible for the [bonus]. Before the Click It or Ticket campaigns began in 2002 Vermont's seat belt rate was 67.4 percent."
The Burlington Free Press reports that Vermont State Police canine team, senior trooper Michelle LeBlanc and her partner, Casko, were named the 2007 Vermont Police Canine Association’s Tracking Team of the Year. LeBlanc was also named "recipient of a Dedicated Service award" which "recognize[s] canine teams that exceed professional expectations."
Vermont Public Radio reports that "the Vermont Crime Laboratory's DNA lab was dedicated this morning to the memory of Patricia Scoville, who was murdered in Stowe 16 years ago." Scoville "was honored because it was through the work of her parents that Vermont's DNA database was established." Indeed, when Scoville was found murdered in October of 1991, "Vermont was one of only two states at that did not have a DNA database." Over the next several years, Scoville's parents successfully "lobbied for the databank, which helped lead to finding [Scoville's] killer."
The Caledonian Record reports that the Grafton County Drug Court Sentencing Program "celebrated its one-year anniversary Wednesday, and its clients have credited it with turning their lives around - and in some cases saving them." The program is an 18- to 24-month program with four phases of intensive to less intensive drug treatment. "In the first phase, clients are tested thrice-weekly for drugs and alcohol, and they meet once a week with a judge. [Clients] contribute to the costs [of] their own treatment and testing based on their ability to pay." Notably, "though still in its pilot stages, Grafton County's drug court was one in five drug courts across the nation bestowed the Community Transformation Award by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in October."
The Brattleboro Reformer reports that Brattleboro Police Detective Erik Johnson has started a blog on the police department's website. The blog will cover the "good things" that the Department does in the community, will be a place for the community to provide feedback to the Department, and "may be used for particular investigations." Johnson hopes that the blog will improve community-police interactions. For example, he noted that "officers who work the graveyard shift may have no interaction with the general public." He also added that the blog would not "replace old-fashioned community policing where the officer's out in the public."
Vermont Public Radio reports that victim advocates with the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services work with victims and their families to help these individuals understand the ins and outs of the court system. Advocates also "provide emotional support and encouragement" during trials -- "a time when many [victims and families might] feel lost." Judy Rex, executive director for the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services, explained that "one of the most important things victim advocates do with a victim and the family is to really educate them about the criminal justice system and what to expect. [It's] just so important for [these individuals] to understand all the different things that can happen [during a trial] and why. That really helps them to walk into the courtroom and have realistic expectations of what to expect."
The Brattleboro Reformer reports that the town of Westminister can visit the Windham County Sheriff's Department website for real time updates on the Department's activities. The website, called the Sheriff's Town Advisory Reporting System (or STARS), was started in order to improve communications between the towns and the Department. Notably, the Department currently serves ten towns. "In the past, towns contracting with the sheriff would get a bill mailed to them with statistical information lumping together how many tickets were written and how many other calls [were made] but [with] very little detail about what happened when the deputies were in the town." According to Sheriff Keith Clark, "We've had nothing but positive feedback from Westminster." The system will be launched in the remaining nine towns this week and next.
The Caledonian Record reports that "Police Chief Tom Hanlon and two trained officers have been sworn in as members of the [Brighton's] first police department." The department was formed after a "very public process" that included public input at town meetings. The Brighton Department already has a new phone installed and is awaiting the arrival of a police cruiser.
The Burlington Free Press reports that "since 1997, the number of women incarcerated in Vermont has increased by 480 percent." For example, "over the course of 2001, Vermont had 634 women in prison," and "in 2007, that number spiked to 1,015, accounting for 14 percent of the incarcerated population in the state. Of those 1,015 women, most were incarcerated due to nonviolent drug and property crimes" and "many were locked up on parole violations." Ninety percent of these women will spend less than one year in prison, "but that is time enough to lose jobs, housing, and most crushing, their children." Indeed, a growing number of children have "primary caregivers [who] are imprisoned." These children "are left in the care of other family members or placed in foster homes" and "often already face the challenge of being low-income and then must deal with the absence of a parent."
In turn, the "Department of Corrections, along with a number of nonprofits around the state, work to keep incarcerated mothers connected with their children whenever possible." Notably, "a February report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan social policy think tank, suggested that children who maintain contact with their incarcerated parents face fewer behavioral and social problems, while regular contact with their children means those incarcerated are less likely to re-offend."
The Rutland Herald reports that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department seeks public input on Vermont's big game management plans for white-tailed deer, black bear, moose and wild turkeys. "The information the public provides will help Fish & Wildlife develop a 10-year plan" for these animals. The plans "will serve as a road map for wildlife managers and the public to follow" and will "bring about desired outcomes such as population goals, habitat conservation and nuisance animal policies that are biologically and socially acceptable."
Vermont Public Radio reports that in 2007, "lawmakers directed the Agency of Agriculture to review food-buying practices at state institutions." In response, the Agency appointed Helen Labun Jordan to "focus on the state's buying practices" and to "produce a report on the potential connections between agricultural producers, state government, and state institutions, such as the State Hospital, prisons, and the Veterans' Home." The report identified "barriers to acquiring local food" and determined that Vermont's nine correctional facilities could be "a potential market for Vermont farmers and food processors and state-sponsored farm-to-table initiatives." According to Jordan, "Correctional facilities are the primary place where Vermont government directly purchases food" and these facilities offer a "whole new frontier for the types of markets farmers can sell to." The St. Albans' Northwest Correctional facility serves as "a good example." The facility receives dairy products from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and "has a four-and-a-half acre garden that supplies up to 40,000 pounds of produce, half going to the local food shelf." Now the State is "exploring new routes to buy locally grown food": They are looking into creating more vegetable gardens on prison property and adding local food to prison menus.
The Times Argus reports that the Vermont Sentencing Commission – a 17-member body composed of police, judges, prosecutors and public defenders – will study Vermont's drug laws and issue a report on their findings to lawmakers in March of 2009. The Commission will consider two major issues:
- Removing jail time and instead using a court diversion program for first-time offenders arrested with small amounts of marijuana
- Installing alcohol-sensor ignition locks in the vehicles of some drunken driving offenders
The Rutland Herald reports that by a 3-2 decision, "the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a 2005 law that allows the state to collect genetic samples from nonviolent felons." Starting in 1993, "the state has collect[ed] DNA samples from offenders convicted of certain felonies, most of them violent or sexual offenses." In 2005, a state law "require[d] genetic sampling of all felons, [including] those convicted of nonviolent offenses such as drug possession or credit card fraud."
Representing the state's Prisoners' Rights Office, lawyer Rory Malone argued before the Court that this practice "violates felons' constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure." Malone also warned that this practice could ultimately lead to "a wider abrogation of privacy protections." The justices disagreed, saying that felons, "by virtue of their conviction, give up certain privacy rights." Indeed in the Court's prevailing opinion, Chief Justice Paul Reiber wrote that "the deterrent effect of DNA collection against future criminal activity advances important State interests that outweigh the minimal intrusions upon protected interests."
The Burlington Free Press reports that "legislative negotiators agreed Wednesday that Vermont's prison system will be shuffled, with all female inmates moving to St. Albans, a new work camp for men coming to Windsor and the Dale unit in Waterbury closing." Notably, "the restructuring is intended to close the most expensive prison -- Dale. It would also move nonviolent male offenders to a new, less-expensive work camp. The savings from the changes would be invested in increased substance abuse treatment and transitional housing -- intended to produce better outcomes for inmates." The final agreement for the restructuring remains tentative until "the House and Senate iron out [their] differences."