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Londonderry Considers Police Protection To Combat Rise In Drug-Related Crime

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Howard Weiss-Tisman
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VPR
Max Turner, owner of The New American Grill in Londonderry, talks about the bars he installed on the windows of his restaurant. The restaurant has been broken into four times over the past few years.

It's hard to keep secrets in a place like Londonderry. In this small town of about 1,700, people tend to know each other's business, and so if you want to know where drugs are being sold Chad Stoddard is happy to show you.

Stoddard's mother was born in Londonderry and he's spent most of his life in the region.

Over the past few years, Stoddard and the other residents of Londonderry have seen a disturbing rise in property crimes which law enforcement officials peg to Vermont's opioid crisis.

This story is part of State of Recovery, VPR's week-long look at the progress that’s been made in fighting opiate addiction in Vermont and the problems that remain. Read more here.

But while the heroin coming into Vermont has been linked to dealers from large cities to the south, Stoddard says the break-ins in Londonderry are being committed by members of the local community. 

"I've lived here a long time," says Stoddard. "I know the people, and, as well as other people that have been here their entire lives. They know who they are too, and it's just common conversation, you know?"

Londonderry has no police force, and like most small towns in Vermont it relies on the State Police for what amounts to occasional law enforcement.  

At a community meeting earlier this year Londonderry residents asked town officials to do something about the steep increase in burglaries and break-ins.

The selectboard is now going to ask voters if they want to sign a contract with the Vermont State Police for an additional 40 hours of dedicated law enforcement. asset-pullquotes

"There's a direct relation between the opiate addiction issue in Vermont and property crimes. It's happening all over the state the rural communities get hit hard, there's not a lot of cops patrolling these back roads. It's pretty easy to get away with, and everybody knows it." — Detective Lt John Merrigan, commander of the Vermont State Police Narcotics Investigation unit

The contract is going to cost $86,000, and Stoddard says while there is support for the move, there's also a sense of frustration over just how bad things have gotten.

“Do we need it? Yes. Do we want it? Some people say 'yes' and some people say 'no,'" Stoddard says. "I, myself, I'm on the fence. I think we need it, but then again, at the expense of $86,000 and my taxes going up. They are forcing us to make this decision, as a community."

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Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
Chad Stoddard's family has been around Londonderry for two generations. He says heroin is leaving its mark on the community.

And it's not just Londonderry that faces this problem, according to  Detective Lieutenant John Merrigan, commander of the Vermont State Police Narcotics Investigation unit.

"Londonderry is very similar to the rest of rural Vermont that's experiencing this, and it's kind of the same everywhere," says Merrigan. "I get asked a lot if there's a hot spot in the state. Rutland gets a lot of attention, but Rutland isn't any worse than Brattleboro, which isn't any worse than White River Junction, which isn't any worse than Barre. Every community has got a significant opiate issue and Londonderry is one of those communities."

"Rutland isn't any worse than Brattleboro, which isn't any worse than White River Junction, which isn't any worse than Barre. Every community has got a significant opiate issue." — Detective Lt. John Merrigan

Merrigan says towns with their own police force are challenged enough to keep up with the crime. And as addicts look for easy targets it doesn't take too much to drive a town or two over where there is little, or no, police presence.

 "There's a direct relation between the opiate addiction issue in Vermont and property crimes," Merrigan says. "It's happening all over the state, the rural communities get hit hard, there's not a lot of cops patrolling these back roads. It's pretty easy to get away with, and everybody knows it."

Max Turner owns The New American Grill in the center of Londonderry.

In the past year-and-a-half  his restaurant has been broken into four times.

Londonderry is wedged between three major ski mountains and as a restaurant owner he is acutely aware of what a heightened police presence could do to his business.

 "I mean we're a tourist area," Turner says. " We live and die and eat by people coming here that want a Vermont experience. They don't need to see an overwhelming police presence in the area. They just don't."

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Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
At town meeting Londonderry residents will vote on a new $86,000 contract with the Vermont State Police.

Like Stoddard, Turner says there's a sense of loss and a feeling that things have changed in Londonderry.

He used to leave deliveries out when he couldn't get to it, and even said he would occasionally forget to lock up after a busy night.

Now he's got bars on the back window and a steel reinforced door separating the back room from his restaurant.
 
 "You know. You're making ends meet, and you're trying to make a business in an area that can be challenging, especially in this economy, and then you start making gains towards that and someone comes and swipes it so they can go get high," Turner says. "You want to try to play by the rules and let the legal system and the courts run their course but it's a long slow process."

Turner wonders what 40 hours of police presence is really going to do.

And he wonders if it'll just send the crime over to the next town.

It's a step, he says, and Londonderry residents will have to decide on Town Meeting Day if it's a step that's worth $86,000 a year.

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