Police: Arlington is still a safe town

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ARLINGTON — Despite a homicide earlier this year, residents of Arlington are safe. Even so, they should take steps to protect themselves, such as locking their doors.

That was a message law enforcement sent to residents attending a community meeting on public safety at the Federated Church of East Arlington on Thursday. It was a follow-up to an event organized in response to the stabbing death of Helen Jones, 81, at her home in January.

A Sunderland man has since been arrested in connection with her death. Timothy J. Butler, 31, of Sunderland, denied murder and burglary charges at his March arraignment in Bennington criminal court.

The rate of violent crime has held steady and is comparable to other towns of similar size, Lt. Thomas Mozzer, station commander for the Shaftsbury barracks, said. "But it's 2017," he continued, referring to a change in social norms. "Fifteen to 25-year-olds are completely different than when I was growing up."

Information presented to attendees indicated the number of arrests in town hadn't changed since 2000. But those who spoke expressed that the opioid epidemic is connected to a rise in property crime.

"I lock my door," said Erica Marthage, Bennington County state's attorney. "I look at it very differently than I did a year ago," she said. "After seeing this [the Butler case] and that offense, even though numbers haven't gone up, I lock my door."

Several dozen people attended Thursday night's meeting, organized by resident Don Keelan and Rev. Kathy Clark. In attendance were Dt. Sgt. James Wright and Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke.

The church hosted a meeting Jan. 19 after the body of Jones was found on Jan. 4 in her Buck Hill Road home where she lived alone. Butler knew Jones, having mowed her lawn and performed odd-jobs for her, according to a court affidavit.

Butler was interviewed by police on Jan. 6, and later repeatedly asked by police to submit a DNA sample.

Butler is being held without bail on charges of felony first-degree murder and felony burglary into an occupied home with a weapon. The murder charge carries a minimum of 35 years in prison and maximum life term, and the burglary charge, up to 30 years.

Marthage said the case is moving at a pace similar to others she's been involved in since starting as a Bennington County prosecutor in the early 2000s. She said a "realistic expectation" is for a case to last 18 months from when her office files charges, with the case being ready for trial in early 2018.

The stabbing death touched off an intense investigation, with detectives from the Major Crime Unit and other VSP personnel from around Vermont that was labeled a top priority by authorities. Those who spoke Thursday indicated the heavy presence and increased patrols between January and March resulted in many tips that aided local investigations.

Social media can influence people's perception of their safety, Zink said.

"People are accessing more information faster," he said. "It makes people worried and think it's worse than it really is."

While social media can help law enforcement in their work, residents should know some Facebook groups are ripe with rumors, Zink said.

Those rumors aren't always harmless. Marthage said her office pursued a false alarm charge against an individual who, in July, posted to a Facebook group that there had been a murder in Manchester. Marthage said that it was disturbing that such a "malicious" use of social media came so soon after the Arlington homicide.

The hour-long meeting was filmed by Greater Northshire Access Television: http://gnat-tv.org.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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