Gang presence has been felt in Vermont, says DOC

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The Newport courthouse.  Drawing by Lori Halsey

The Newport courthouse. Drawing by Lori Halsey

Clarification, added December 11, 2014:  

In the article on Vermont gang activity, we quoted Brian Mclaughlin as saying the Latin Kings have a presence in Barton. Mr. Mclaughlin has contacted the Chronicle to say the quote was accurate, but he only used Barton as an example of a small community where a gang might turn up. The Latin Kings do not have a house in Barton, Mr. Mclaughlin now says.


 

copyright the Chronicle December 10, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Gangs don’t appreciate Vermont’s scenery Brian Mclaughlin of the Department of Corrections told an audience of about 25 social service agency and law enforcement representatives Tuesday. They do like something that most state residents cherish, a sense of safety, but mostly “they’re here strictly for the money,” Mr. Mclaughlin said.

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The homeless — out of sight, out of mind?

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The area’s homeless don’t tend to be street-dwellers, as in more urban places.  In the Northeast Kingdom, they live on the beaches, in the woods, in their cars, or they “couch surf,” sleeping at the homes of friends or family who have enough room to take them in for a while.  The county’s homeless population exists, it’s just hard to find.   Photo by David Dudley

The area’s homeless don’t tend to be street-dwellers, as in more urban places. In the Northeast Kingdom, they live on the beaches, in the woods, in their cars, or they “couch surf,” sleeping at the homes of friends or family who have enough room to take them in for a while. The county’s homeless population exists, it’s just hard to find. Photo by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle November 19, 2014

by David Dudley

NEWPORT — Victoria Kuhn, a thin woman in her twenties, moved to Newport a little over a year ago with her fiancé. Since their arrival, they have lived on Prouty Beach, in their car, and during the cold months, with the man’s mother. Ms. Kuhn’s fiancé suffered a traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while in the military.  Since his return, he has developed severe stomach ulcers, and doctors have given him six months to live, Ms. Kuhn said.

“We came to Newport from Dover, Delaware,” she said. “We wanted to be near his mother, but we couldn’t find our own place to live.

“We’ve been here a little over a year now, and still haven’t found our own home. I don’t know how to explain it. ”

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In Newport: An inside look at a chance for redemption

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Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera).  “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said.  “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.”  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera). “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said. “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.” Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle February 19, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A slight man with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard walked into a small room at the Community Justice Center here and looked around at the three people who, in the course of an hour’s conversation, could help shape his future.

Walter Medwid, coordinator of Newport’s reparative justice system, had already met Damion (for the sake of privacy, only offenders’ first names are used in this story).  He shook his hand and introduced him to Ed Brochu, Isobel Marks, and Terry Collins, who also greeted the young man warmly.

Having pled guilty in November to unlawful trespass in an occupied dwelling, Damion was reporting to a reparative board, one of the less-heralded parts of Vermont’s criminal justice system.

The reparative justice program is intended to repair the damage to the community that a crime causes, and to persuade the person who committed the act to accept responsibility and make amends.  The program is also designed to let the offender know that, once those goals are reached, he or she is again in the community’s good graces.  It’s intended primarily for first-time lawbreakers who commit non-violent offenses.

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NCUHS board favors plans to hire police officer

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by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — After a discussion that occasionally veered toward the contentious, the North Country Union High School board decided Tuesday to move forward on negotiations with Newport aimed at hiring a city police officer as a community resource officer in the school.

The board was acting on a recommendation from its human resources committee, which favors hiring the officer.

Newport representative Richard Cartee said he is worried that the $40,000 available to pay for the officer will be too little, and the school will find itself spending money it doesn’t have.

Principal Bill Rivard pledged not to spend more than the amount given to the school out of Medicaid funds.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Mr. Cartee said.

“Please do,” replied Mr. Rivard.

Mr. Rivard said the $40,000 represents new Medicaid money above and beyond the money now used to pay for a half-time school psychologist and a behavior specialist.

Mr. Rivard said he has spoken with Newport Police Chief Seth DiSanto and come up with a draft of a memorandum of understanding outlining the responsibilities of the school and the police department.

Under the terms of the memorandum the officer will “provide specialized assistance… to the school’s administrators, teachers and parents.”

The agreement also lists the officer’s duties as providing instruction to students, investigating criminal activity, and dealing with other police matters concerning the school or students.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette, who attended the school board meeting along with Alderman Dennis Chenette, said the council has yet to see the agreement.  Mr. Monette said he is concerned about any potential cost to city taxpayers.

“The bottom line is that we already have a million dollar police force and we don’t want to increase that,” the mayor said.

Mr. Cartee said he was disturbed to hear people saying that he attended the city council meeting Monday night in order to oppose the board’s plans.

He had gone to the meeting as a Newport taxpayer, he said, to express his concerns about the possibility that the city would get stuck with unforeseen expenses.

Richard Nelson, a board member from Derby, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.  While he understands that the cost of the program’s first year will be covered by the Medicaid grant, “all good things come to an end,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nelson continued, most of the people he’s spoken to about the proposal have favored hiring a school resource officer.

“I spoke with some police officers,” he said.  “They’re eager to see it, see how it works.  It could be a benefit to the school and a benefit to the students.”

Mr. Nelson said the school has an ex-state trooper serving as truancy officer, who is “a hell of a good guy doing a good job,” but he will retire someday.

The school could think about combining the two positions, Mr. Nelson said.

He said that although some people worry about having a law enforcement officer in school “I always believe, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

The board need not worry about negotiations, he suggested, because any changes made by the police or city officials would have to be ratified by the school board.

Scott Boskind, another of Derby’s representatives on the board and himself a former school principal, said that it’s important to think about the question of school safety.

“While no one wants to talk about the most horrific events,” he said, the violent attacks in Newtown, Connecticut and Columbine, Colorado, should never be forgotten.

Mr. Boskind even cited a school massacre in 1927 in Michigan “where a school board member planted a bomb because he was disgruntled.”

Mr. Cartee laughed.  “I appreciate that,” he said.

“While I’m glad that we have a board member who is cognizant of finances, we all have a passion to make sure students come to school and are going to be safe,” Mr. Boskind said.

“I think that never, ever, ever can you say I am not concerned about safety of students,” Mr. Cartee said.  But all too often the school approves spending on a program and then exceeds that amount, he continued.

He said that a good example is the cost of the school’s new running track, the bulk of which was to have been paid for through private fund-raising events, but which was largely paid for with public funds.

If hiring a resource officer costs $50,000 a year, and voters approve the expense, that would be fine with him, Mr. Cartee said.

Mr. Rivard said that the cost of a Newport officer would vary depending on the amount of experience the officer has.  Should a very senior officer decide to seek the post, that might mean fewer days on the job.

For instance, Mr. Rivard said, it might mean the officer is in the school 125 days a year rather than 175.  In no event, he said, would the cost exceed $40,000

Maggie Griffith, one of Newport’s representatives, asked Mr. Rivard if officers are called to the school often.

Mr. Rivard said he didn’t have figures, but they are there “some.”

Mr. Nelson said the officers he talked to said there ought to be a school resource officer because they are called to the school four or five times a week.  He made a gesture indicating that he didn’t believe those statements.

There were no votes cast in opposition to the plan to seek a school resource officer.  Mr. Nelson abstained from voting.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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