By Mike Goldin '14
On a snowy morning in January, over 100 black-clad law enforcement officers from local and state agencies swept through the Bennington area with warrants for the arrest of 63 suspects implicated in drug-related crimes. The Bennington Banner posted dramatic video of a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter buzzing over downtown Bennington as heavily armed officers patrolled down Pleasant Street. The Drug War had come to Bennington in a serious way, and not for lack of hype: mysterious drug dealers, pushers, users and abusers—inevitably from “the City”—are commonly cited as being at the root of many troubling local trends. The Free Press scrutinized arrest data from cities across Vermont to better assess whether Bennington’s drug woes are any worse than what one might expect to find in a municipality with similar demographics.
Municipal arrest data is publicly available through 2010 via the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Free Press analyzed arrest statistics from municipal police departments in six Vermont cities with populations between ten and twenty thousand, normalized the data to reflect arrests per 1,000 population and ordered the data by median household income as per the 2010 census. The results were only surprising insofar as how normal they were: local discourse implies far higher usage and manufacturing/sale rates than appear to exist in reality. Looking at the arrest data, Bennington seems quite normal—certainly not out of line with what one might expect to find in a town with similar circumstances
A clear trend in the data is that drug crime falls as median incomes rise. Meaningful changes in lawbreaking and law-abiding behavior may be reasonably expected to track meaningful changes in the local economy—it is more tenuous to assert that economic development would track drug crime trends. In this regard, Bennington’s drug problem may be more accurately assessed as a symptom of a more systemically rooted economic reality.