City Police Chief talks neighborhood intervention
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | March 07,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Rutland City Police Chief James Baker speaks during a meeting regarding crime hot spots in the city at Northwest Elementary School on Wednesday evening.
Rutland Police Chief James Baker did most of the talking at a forum at Northwest Elementary School on Wednesday night — but it was the statistics he presented that said volumes about why a $1 million community intervention effort is focusing on the city’s northwest neighborhood.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 residents — as well as state legislators, city officials and representatives from social service organizations — Baker laid out a multifaceted approach to dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues in the neighborhood that he said is responsible for the highest crime rates in the county.
“I want everyone to understand why we perceive the issues to be so challenging in this neighborhood,” Baker said. “So you can understand we’re not selecting the neighborhood by throwing a dart at the board.”
In handouts given to audience members, the northwest neighborhood was described as a “hot zone” for criminal acts. Of the 13,000 police calls each year in the city, about 73 percent are in the neighborhood — which Baker defined roughly as the area between Crescent Street and the city’s downtown.
Within that small area, the chief said, 79 percent of the city’s burglaries, 80 percent of reported thefts, 85 percent of the vandalism and 84 percent of disorderly conduct and simple assaults take place.
Baker included a chart he said was part of the city’s application for a $1 million U.S. Department of Justice Grant that would target mental health, substance abuse, poverty and other quality of life issues in the neighborhood. The chart showed that more than 20 percent of Rutland County’s burglaries, one-third of its thefts, one-quarter of its vandalisms and more than one-third of its disorderly conducts and simple assaults take place the five-block-wide section of the city.
In addition, the statistics showed a 25 percent poverty rate in the area and free or reduced-price lunch eligibility for 81 percent of students at the Northwest School.
“I know I’m speaking to the choir because we all know what it looks like,” the chief said at the start of the meeting.
While the statistics were grim, he said he and a coalition of government and social service agencies are working to improve the neighborhood by improving the lives of those who live there — especially those with drug abuse and mental health issues.
He said the police department cannot hope to “arrest” its way out of the drug problem that has grown in the city during the last 13 years.
But by combining resources with other agencies, he said, police could prevent crimes and reduce the crime rate.
As an example, the chief described the situation of a woman in the neighborhood who regularly calls police for incidents involving her son who is a drug addict with mental health issues.
“The mom loves her son, but she’s at her wit’s end because her adult son is such a mess,” Baker said.
“She doesn’t want to throw him out in a snowbank, so she calls us,” he said. “But mental health and addiction issues are problems the police can’t resolve. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a social worker who could get her the help she needs?”
Part of the community intervention concept involves having a social worker inside the police department, along with a mental health counselor, drug addiction specialist and assistant state attorney general to help police deal decisively with situations they presently are called to repeatedly with no way to fix the underlying issues.
It’s a concept that appeared to meet with approval from residents who applauded at the end of the forum.