A study of the state's newest Special Investigation units shows they are processing fewer cases than they were in the years prior to their establishment.
The study was conducted by Vermont Center for Justice Research in Northfield Falls, Vt.
The study tracked the number of cases filed on charges of sexual assault on a minor, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, sexual assault, lewd & lascivious conduct, sex offender registry violations and pornography related cases in nine Vermont counties and compared cases filed in the three years before an SIU unit was established to the three years after it was established.
According to the report, the total number of cases filed in the three years before the SIU period in nine Vermont counties dropped dramatically in the three years after the SIU's were established - from 427 to 163.
An SIU is a dedicated law enforcement segment that serves a region of the state. The focus is on the investigation of and apprehension of perpetrators of crimes of a sexual nature.
The study results indicate the dedicated function has not brought about increased prosecution.
Windham County dropped from 90 cases to 11. Washington County dropped from 74 to 12. Rutland County went from 66 to 18. Orange decreased from 37 to 15. Windsor County went from 70-28. Caledonia County went from 36 to 29 cases and Essex/Orleans went from 28 to 19. Only Lamoille County increased from 26 cases to 31 cases.
The study also tracked the percentage of cases resulting in at least one sex crime conviction. Overall the conviction rate in the nine counties went up from 50.3 percent to 55.7 percent But the conviction rate in Caledonia, Orange and Windsor Counties went down while Essex/Orleans sex crime convictions went up.
The percentage of child sex crime cases resulting in a conviction of a child sex crime decreased overall from 54 percent to 37 percent. Every county in the Northeast Kingdom plus Orange County showed a decrease. Only Rutland county saw an increase.
Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell, who helped start the original SIU in Chittenden County in 1992, said he suspected the new SIU's established were likely experiencing some "growing pains."
"Even the Chittenden unit wasn't running at a hundred miles an hour at the start," said Sorrell. "It has improved as time has gone on. These things work. Trust me."
Sorrell said he's now visiting SIUs across the state and hoped to be visiting the unit in Caledonia County soon. He said he thinks one of the problems the new SIUs may be experiencing is a lack of full cooperation from some law enforcement agencies who may be continuing to do their own sex assault investigations.
"I want to be sure there's total buy-in and if not, then why?' said Sorrell.
Sorrell said some units - which use investigators already working for other agencies such as state police and local police - might be having logistical issues with investigators working from separate offices in communities without a co-located SIU office.
Caledonia County does have a co-located SIU office on Eastern Avenue and Caledonia County States Attorney Lisa Warren said getting police cooperation has not been a problem and that she was "absolutely" satisfied with the performance of the Caledonia County Special Investigative Unit.
"It's improving every year," said Warren. "Since we started it here there's has been excellent coordination by the SIU team and their response to the victims of abuse has been exemplary."
Warren also questioned the numbers in the report which show declines in Caledonia County County SIU cases.
"There are several pieces of information in the report that are unclear such as the date ranges covered by the statistics, both pre and post-SIU," said Warren. "It also doesn't account for all the cases that are reported and investigated but not prosecuted. Those cases are very labor intensive and no matter what the statistics say we've been busier than ever."
According to its web site, The Vermont Center for Justice Research was established in 1987 by Executive Order as Vermont's Statistical Analysis Center to collect and analyze criminal and juvenile justice information and provide technical assistance to state and local criminal justice agencies.
The center is currently being managed by the Norwich Studies and Analysis Institute, a non-profit research institution located in Northfield.