America’s ‘safest state’ facing soaring homicide rate, fentanyl overdoses

Often considered one of America’s safest states, Vermont is fighting a soaring number of fentanyl overdoses and homicide rates that haven’t been seen in nearly three decades.

Vermont State Police (VSP) revealed homicide numbers topped 20 for the second straight year, according to WCAX.

“We’re prone to have some violence like all states do, but in a small state with a low population, it certainly has a greater effect on people when they hear about it,” VSP Maj. Dan Trudeau told the outlet.

(Video: YouTube)

Last year, Vermont “saw 24 homicide investigations involving a total of 27 deaths,” WCAX reports. “The violence took place across across the state, from Brattleboro to the Northeast Kingdom. Over the last seven years, the state’s homicide numbers ranged from 17 in 2017 to as low as 11 the following year. Since then, they have been on the rise.”

“We’ve typically been in the low teens to mid-teens, maybe for an annual sometimes lower than that,” Trudeau said. “It’s certainly concerning.”

More than half of the state’s 27 homicides involved a gun. Of the cases that state police are investigating, seven are drug-related and involve both suspects and victims from out of Vermont.

“It’s turned to the source and supply is now coming to Vermont,” Trudeau explained. “There are certainly Vermonters that sometimes attempt to steal or rip off the drug dealer themselves, and there can be some degree of turf war between drug dealers.”

Fentanyl is killing a lot of Vermont’s residents, according to the Daily Mail, “with 243 opioid deaths in 2022, up by a staggering 386 percent compared to a decade ago and a 50 percent increase on 2020.”

“Worsening matters,” the outlet reports, “VSP – responsible for about 200 towns, 90 percent of the state’s land mass, and 50 percent of its 650,000-strong population – is in the midst of an unprecedented staffing crisis.”

According to statistics from the Vermont Department of Health, the number of fatal overdoses has more than quadrupled from 63 a decade ago to 243 in 2022. The 2023 numbers, still being tabulated, are expected to be similar to 2022’s. As of the end of October, 201 of the state’s residents suffered “opioid-related accidental and undetermined deaths.”

“The number is higher than the three-year average through October,” according to the Daily Mail.

“We’re doing more work – our calls for service go up every year – with less people,” Trudeau said last month, according to the outlet.

Penny Shtull, a criminology professor at Norwich University, is concerned that the increasing homicides could pose an economic threat to the Green Mountain State.

“It can increase people’s perception of fear or safety,” she told WCAX. “It can impact tourism or impact people’s willingness to go to areas that have seen an increase in homicide.”

Two years of data do not make a trend, Shtull said, but analyzing the data is important if solutions are to be found.

“Nationwide,” the professor said, “we’re looking at what type of programs or practices — whether that’s law enforcement or on a governmental level in terms of policies and practices — may have reduced the overall, nationwide crime rate and whether those can be applied to places like Vermont.”


Melissa Fine


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