Rutland rally: hundreds turn out for city crime meeting
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | October 26,2012
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Larry Jensen, right, chairman of the Rutland Police Commission, addresses a large crowd at the Franklin Conference Center on Thursday night.
It was early into the packed community forum Thursday night when Larry Jensen, chairman of the Rutland Police Commission, made the remark that earned the largest round of applause at the event.
“As long as people think it’s acceptable to live in RutVegas ... we’re not going to fix the problem,” Jensen said, adding that he would like to “strangle” whoever came up with the derogatory nickname for the city.
Almost a month after the crash on Cleveland Avenue that killed a 17-year-old high school senior, hundreds of residents filled seats and stood along the walls inside the Franklin Room at the Howe Center during the first public forum since the fatal crash to address drugs and crime in the city. While conventional illegal drugs, such as crack cocaine and heroin, weren’t identified as factors in Carly Ferro’s death, the 23-year-old driver, Alex W. Spanos, was allegedly huffing from a can of aerosol to get high when he crashed into a row of parked cars outside the Rutland Discount Food and Liquidation Center during the early evening hours of Sept. 27.
Spanos, who was jailed after denying multiple felony charges including manslaughter, was also arrested earlier this year in New York driving a car that contained 185 grams of crack cocaine.
Ferro’s death shocked a community that mourned her death publicly through hundreds of postings on Facebook pages devoted to her memory and causes.
On Thursday, the grief wasn’t as evident but the frustration with criminal activity and a drug trade blamed by most for causing her death, was on full display.
“We’re feeling it,” resident Phelippa Hurley said. “Many of us have had bricks thrown through our car windows before any of this and what happened to Carly — it’s a tragedy we feel throughout the city.”
The early part of the gathering was focused on plans put in motion by the city and its police chief to build a coalition of local, state and federal agencies that would work together to not only arrest drug dealers but change the city’s culture and environment.
“This is the beginning of a new chapter for us as a city that takes back our neighborhoods and our streets,” Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras said.
City Police Chief James Baker said that by improving communications between agencies and analyzing the information and tips that the department receives, the police and other agencies could move more quickly to address problems in the neighborhoods.
One of the biggest focuses of the “community intervention initiative” that the chief is trying to put into place is keeping people in compliance who are subject to court orders or the supervision of agencies such as the state Department of Corrections.
All too often, Baker said information concerning people living in the community under conditions such as furlough from jail or pre-trial release conditions imposed by criminal courts isn’t known to local law enforcement agencies.
Such was the case in Spanos’ case, he said when the driver of the car was subject to conditions of release in the state of New York that weren’t known to police in Rutland.
“When I talk about compliance and keeping people in bounds, that’s what I’m talking about,” he said. “I’m not saying it will prevent another tragedy, but for us to ignore an issue this obvious would be a disservice to you and the community.”
The chief and other city officials also asked residents for their help by reporting suspicious activity to the police and by participating in Rutland United Neighborhoods.
That organization formed more than a decade ago for the similar cause of banding residents together to fight an influx of drugs and crime in the community.
Baker said RUN needs to be reinvigorated for the community to succeed.
“We have to re-establish our relationship with the community through the RUN network and I’ve assigned a sergeant to each sector of the city,” Baker said. “Through complacency and time that initiative died on the vine. We need to bring that back.”