MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Prosecutors say there are more effective ways to crack down on sex offenders than imposing longer mandatory minimum sentences.

They testified Friday on the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the state’s sex offender laws, following the abduction and death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett of Braintree earlier this summer.

Prosecutors have warned that lengthy minimum prison terms under the so-called Jessica’s Laws could lead to more trials and more acquittals since the cases rely on sometimes shaky evidence.

“It is understandable that people are outraged,” said Robert Sand, Windsor County state’s attorney. “It is also easy.”

He said “policymakers must lead, not simply fan the flames of vengeance.”

The most important step the state can take is to expand to every county and fully staff its specialized sex crime investigation units, he said.

Urban areas like Chittenden County, which has numerous police departments, can rely on local police investigators. In rural areas, investigators with the Vermont State Police are needed, said Attorney General William Sorrell.

“It is really going to take a topdown commitment that this is a priority from the governor on down,” he said.

Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Tremblay said Thursday that the expansion of the special investigation units is a top priority but admitted the state police need to fill 21 vacancies.

There are currently two units dealing specifically with sex crimes – the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations and the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations. They will serve as models for the new units.

“One of the things that needs to occur is we need to have specially assigned, specially trained investigators that can provide this new service,” Tremblay said. “I don’t have a specific timeframe or deadline for that.”

He said state police are always prepared to investigate sex crimes against children and said no case involving a child has been denied an officer to investigate.


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