BARRE — The Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office is dealing with a workload that will likely see an uptick of 300 criminal cases in 2018 compared with last year.
Officials say the increase isn’t due to a rash of more crimes being committed, in fact some areas are reporting a decrease in crime reports. The workload is taking its toll on law enforcement, however.
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said last year his office filed over 1,300 cases. This year, he said the office is on track to file 1,650 to 1,700 new cases.
“However you want to slice or dice it, that’s an increase of 250 to 300 cases without any increase in the number of personnel working here,” he said.
Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier said the number of reported crimes is down for the city, but calls for service, which include welfare checks and other safety-related duties, have gone up by 16.5 percent. Bombardier said arrests have remained relatively consistent. In a 12-month period from September 2016 to September 2017 his department conducted 419 arrests, compared with 422 arrests for the same period of time from September 2017 to this month.
He noted the number of violations of conditions of release has gone up.
Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos wrote in an email crime in the Capital City is also down 28 percent when compared with last year. Facos also noted a significant increase in people accused of violating court-assigned conditions of release.
According to the U.S. Census, Washington County has an estimated population of 58,000, comparable to Rutland County with an estimated population of 59,000. Thibault’s office is budgeted for four deputy state’s attorneys. Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy’s office has five deputies and another part-time, temporary deputy position that she received funding for through a grant.
Thibault has reached out to John Campbell, executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, looking for an additional deputy for his office. Campbell did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
Bombardier said his department is budgeted for 20 officers, but given the national standards for a city the size of Barre, he said an optimal number would be about 24 officers.
An increase in crime isn’t the cause of the increase in cases filed, Thibault said. He pointed to other factors such as an increase in people reporting crimes. Both local and state police have recently made an effort to get communities involved in solving crimes by encouraging residents to report suspicious activity, and if they “see something, say something.”
Thibault said the increase in filed cases is also due to police departments in the area finally getting staffed to capacity and filling vacant officer positions. He said that has led to an increase in cases involving people driving under the influence or with suspended licenses. More officers on the streets means more officers available to catch criminal acts while conducting routine patrols, whereas fewer officers means they are tied up responding to more immediate law enforcement needs such as a domestic assault or mental health crises.
“When a department is at full staff, they have the ability to send people to training and accrue expertise or build the connections to really understand how to work these cases,” he said.
Bombardier said the increase in those charged with driving with a suspended license or violating their conditions of release comes from Barre City being a small community. Officers recognize people when they patrol and quickly realize when someone is violating a court-ordered curfew or driving when they don’t have a valid license.
Advances in technology have also helped police address crimes that may not have made it to prosecution previously. Thibault said several times this year there have been burglaries reported that in the past would have been quite difficult to solve, but those cases have been cracked using DNA evidence found at the scene.
“That’s another thing that we’re benefiting from. But at the same time, it’s contributing to our increase in workload,” he said.
For the increase in people accused of violating conditions of release, Thibault said suspects with misdemeanors are typically cited, arraigned and released on conditions. In most cases, for someone to be held on bail in Vermont, there needs to be a risk of the defendant not showing up to court, a risk that the state needs to make a case for during arraignment. Thibault said the average domestic assault case, which is a misdemeanor, will see the accused out on conditions of release. Those conditions typically include a no-contact order involving the victim.
If that person then has contact with the victim before the case has been resolved, the suspect can be charged with a violation.
In order to address the increase in violations, Thibault said there has to be a focus on resolving cases more quickly so that those conditions no longer exist.
“Rapid resolution of cases is in the best interest of usually the offender and certainly the victim and public safety,” he said.
But he said everyone involved in the court system, including defense attorneys, court clerks and judges are constrained by time and personnel. While his office hasn’t seen an increase in personnel, the same is true for the number of court clerks and judges assigned to the courthouse in Barre.
Given the random nature of crime itself, Thibault said he didn’t know if the current flow of cases coming in would continue. He said this month has been relatively quiet when it comes to domestic assault cases, but the opposite was true earlier this year during late spring and early summer when several serious domestic assault cases were filed.