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April 14, 2013

Heroin Habits Spread Burglary Epidemic in Burlington, Police Chief Says

Mike SchirlingFederal, state and local law-enforcement officials have scheduled a Monday morning press conference in Burlington to outline new initiatives against the growing use of hard drugs in Vermont and the crimes associated with them.

The current scope of these problems "is like nothing any of us have ever experienced," a police chief with 30 years' experience in the state told a neighborhood meeting in Burlington last week.

Lianne Tuomey, head of the 24-member University of Vermont police force, added that methamphetamines have become part of the mix of illegal drugs used on the UVM campus and in the rest of the city. "We mirror the culture from which we come," Tuomey said in regard to drug use among UVM students.

Many local opioid addicts have switched to heroin from Oxycontin, a prescribed pain-killer, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling (pictured) said at the Ward 6 Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting on April 11. The reason, he explained, is a change made in the Oxycontin formula by its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, that has diminished the drug's attractiveness to abusers. Oxycontin has been re-engineered to decrease its potency when snorted or injected — which had been favored modes of ingestion among those seeking quick highs.

Heroin use has consequently burgeoned in Burlington, Schirling said. And the expense of maintaining this habit has fueled the upsurge in burglaries in the city during the past couple of years, he added. Schirling said a "mid-level addict" requires as many as 15 bags of heroin per day, each of which retails for $20 in Burlington. That equates to a yearly cost of about $100,000.

"That's what's driving these issues," Schirling said in regard to the rise in burglaries and other thefts in Burlington. "The No. 1 driver is opiate addiction." The BPD has had "some significant successes" in burglary-related arrests, the chief continued. But by way of analogy to the crime/drug "epidemic" in the city, Schirling added, "We're plugging fingers into lots of holes in a gigantic dam."

Referring to prosecutors and the courts, he added, "The back end of the system doesn't hold people as accountable as we'd like." Many perps are often back on the streets in short order doing the same bad deeds, the chief observed.

Apple products are particularly popular among burglars, Schirling noted. "They retain their value [on the resale market] in a way we've never seen," he said.

"Second-hand dealers" — commonly known as "fences" — should be seen as catalysts of the crime wave and the drug trade that is causing it to crest, Schirling suggested. Buyers of stolen property are able to ship the goods out of Vermont in a matter of hours, often to refineries "from Texas to Quebec" where gold, silver and other precious metals are melted down, he said.

The NPA audience of about 30 mostly middle-aged Hill Section residents listened attentively to the presentation, which also included remarks by Champlain College public safety director Richard Long.

Some listeners seemed shocked by the statistics and commentaries offered by Schirling and Tuomey. A few audience members asked the police representatives how best to protect their homes and property.

Prickly bushes planted in front of windows are "your best friend," Schirling said.

Is it a good idea to get a gun to protect myself and my home? another questioner wanted to know.

"Find some other way of protecting yourself," Schirling advised.

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