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Rural Crimes Pose Unique Challenge to Police

Local Matters: Crime

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Harmony Schutt - PATRICK RIPLEY
  • Patrick Ripley
  • Harmony Schutt

WESTFORD — Burglars have broken into Harmony Schutt’s Westford home a total of seven times this summer, making off with items such as condoms, alcohol and loose change. “They’re not taking my valuables and they are not harming me,” says the 29-year-old nanny. “But I hate coming home and finding out that someone has been in my house without me knowing about it. It’s just frustrating.”

It’s frustrating, too, for the law-enforcement officers charged with protecting Westford, where the recent rash of burglaries has spread way beyond the Schutt residence. The Williston State Police barracks is the primary police service for the town, as well as seven others that don’t have their own law-enforcement departments. That means just 15 troopers protect a total of eight burgs.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, and we have limited resources to be in all these places,” says Sergeant John Flannigan, a state police spokesman. Statewide, troopers are the primary law enforcement agency for 200 townships, according to Flannigan. They also patrol Interstate 89.

Rural crime presents unique challenges for police. “In the grand scheme of things,” Flannigan observes, “the solvability rate of crimes is lower than others because they are usually unwitnessed, and many of them occur during the day when people are away from their homes at work.”

Schutt’s home has been burgled in a variety of ways. First, the thieves jimmied her sliding glass door. When she blocked that up with a board, they took to cutting her screens and jumping in through a window. She locks her windows, but the bandits are still finding ways inside. Other homes have also been broken into in the neighborhood, which sits more than four miles down unpaved Osgood Hill Road, a slow, bumpy ride that extends about 20 minutes outside the nearest town.

Police suggest surveillance cameras and motion-sensor lights can serve as eyes and ears when homeowners are away. Neighborhood watches and community advisory groups can also be effective. “If people in the community can be more aware of what’s going on in their community,” Flannigan says, “ . . . they can be instrumental in solving crimes.”

The irony is that locals believe they know exactly who is committing the crimes — the neighborhood email listserv, Front Porch Forum, has been abuzz with speculation. Schutt said she had a gas can stolen from her house several months ago, only to have it returned by a young neighbor who lives nearby. “I know it’s just these stupid kids,” she says.

But police say they need to catch the intruders in the act in order to make an arrest. “It’s definitely an issue that we are taking seriously, however, it’s delicate as well, because we are short-staffed and it’s tough to be everywhere at once,” says Trooper Ben Katz, one of many at the Williston barracks who has responded to the Osgood Hill robberies.

If a robbery is reported after the fact, it will be bumped down the list of priorities, Flannigan says. Schutt says it takes police 45 minutes to an hour to respond to her calls, if they show up at all. One time when she called police, “The guy said they have other things to worry about . . . and that this is just petty stuff.”

Schutt recently installed an in-home surveillance camera, but says she can’t get it to work properly, “so it’s not doing me much good.” She’s also considering getting a dog or moving altogether. “I have thought about it, but when I weigh out my options,” Schutt says, “a place like this is really hard to find in Vermont.”

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