Wilmington burglaries bring attention to heroin problem


WILMINGTON -- While acknowledging that drugs are a problem in town, Police Chief Joe Szarejko said recent burglaries have not yet reached epidemic levels.

"We have a heroin problem," he said. "There is a heroin problem. A number of the people we're dealing with are junkies. They're heroin addicts and that's driven a lot of the crime that we've had recently here. That's what fuels our criminal element here."

On Thursday morning, while addressing the downtown organization, Wilmington Works, with a focus on recent burglaries at businesses, Szarejko said there were also some burglaries at residences and two groups of people were identified.

"Fortunately, two of the people that were doing it were charged in Massachusetts. They stole a car here and got stopped in Greenfield by state police there," he said. "They were incarcerated on Friday."

Szarejko was hopeful those two individuals would receive jail time as they were also facing several charges in Wilmington. He said they have a court date set in September in Massachusetts and he heard the deal involved seven years in jail, noting that Massachusetts has stricter penalties than Vermont.

A burglary involving a residence, where there was a surveillance camera, was discussed. A photograph from that camera was then posted on Facebook as well as a website used by law enforcement agencies.

"Another police officer was able to identify the person and we made an arrest last Friday," Szarejko said. "We're still hoping to charge a female accomplice."

He mentioned one other incident involving stolen property that was considered larceny and not breaking and entering.

During the meeting, attendees advised that needles have been found at different locations around town and Szarejko confirmed that there were Wilmington residents involved in the recent crimes.

Board member John Gannon said the town's heroin problem is consistent with what is going on around the state. He asked whether there was anything Wilmington Works could do as an organization.

Szarejko recommended doing anything that would get the word out quickly. He said the rate for solving crimes goes up when incidents are reported right away and anything considered suspicious should be called in immediately.

While hiring new employees, Szarejko suggested consulting with associations the businesses belong to.

"Talk to each other," he said. "When you're hiring somebody, ask around. Ask if they've had problems with the individual. Even a simple Google search, sometimes, reveals things about people."

Other tips included having cameras or alarm systems installed; not leaving large amounts of cash around; and making sure all windows and doors are locked when closing.

"These two particular people that we had, what they would typically do is go into a place where they had permission to be in or even worked there, and they would unlock the windows," said Szarejko. "They would go back later and they would access the building through the window and knew where the cash was. They knew exactly what they were looking for and they would take it."

He also pointed out trespass orders can be issued for anyone and violations result in charges.

Wilmington Works Executive Director Adam Grinold referred to a speech made by Governor Peter Shumlin shortly after he was interviewed by Rolling Stone.

"The issue he was trying to address was a solution for the drug problem. That's not why we're talking about it," he said, later suggesting business owners make employees aware of the recent burglaries and keeping lights on after businesses close for the day.

Board member Tom Fitzgerald mentioned that Wilmington was not alone, citing examples of heavy drug use in Cape Cod and Greenfield, Mass.

"We always felt like we were immune. That's why a lot of us moved here. Back in the '70s, we really were protected. It was pretty good," he said. "But times change."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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