Coalition targets drug use, mental health issues in Rutland
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | February 06,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Rutland City Police Chief James Baker, shown recently in his office at the Rutland police station, is spearheading a coalition working to combat drug and mental health issues in the city’s northwest neighborhood.
Rutland Police Chief James Baker said he believes that law enforcement strategies based on analyzing crimes statistics can not only solve crimes, but prevent them.
How much faith does he have? So much that he believes an allegedly drug-fueled crash that killed a Rutland High School senior on Cleveland Avenue last year could have been prevented if a plan he and dozens of others are working on now had been in place at the time.
“That accident would not have happened in the northwest section of the city,” the chief said addressing a room full of state, local and federal officials inside the city’s police department Tuesday. “The people in that car were involved in the abuse of substances and were on their way to the house of someone who was abusing substances. It would not have happened if they were not on their way to a house to continue partying.”
The crash involving the death of 17-year-old Carly Ferro is well-known to most residents in the city as is the second-degree murder case against Alex Spanos, the 24-year-old driver who was allegedly huffing aerosol to get high seconds before he drove into a row of cars in front of Rutland Discount Foods.
Baker’s plan, which involves the cooperation of a number of law enforcement and other social services and a detailed look at crime statistics to focus those resources, has been a little more difficult for some members of the community to wrap their heads around.
But during a two-hour meeting Tuesday, the chief and other public officials focused one part of their plan on an effort that would use up to $1 million in federal funds to target substance abuse and mental health issues in the area of the city where Ferro lost her life.
“Our belief is that the disorder and chaos in some of the neighborhoods in the northwest are being driven by substance abuse and mental health issues,” Baker said. “We’re looking at a long-term strategy that will change the neighborhood.”
The disorder is reflected in a poverty rate that Rutland Superintendent of Schools Mary Moran told the room was 72 percent at Northwest Elementary School and in the high number of substandard housing identified in the area as part of a citywide housing assessment completed last fall.
To address the problems, which officials in the room said don’t encompass all of the northwestern neighborhoods in Rutland, city officials and a pair of professionals volunteering their time are working to apply for a $1 million federal Byrne Criminal Justice grant.
Those funds, which the city would receive over a three-year period if approved, would support a cooperative arrangement with the University of Miami and the Vermont Center for Justice Research at Norwich University, which would help map and analyze crime data in the city.
“That would help us move resources and address trends we’re seeing,” the chief said.
The in-depth data analysis would also involve the efforts of dozens of state, local and federal organizations that would address underlying quality of life issues that Baker and other law enforcement in the room said they can do little about.
Gathered in the department’s community room Tuesday were representatives from organizations ranging from the Parent Child Center and Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter, to the U.S. attorney’s office and a host of state agencies including the state Department of Corrections and the Agency of Human Services.
All spoke in favor of the plan and many will sit on an advisory board that officials at the meeting say will be made up not only of representatives from agencies involved in the effort but by residents living in the northwest neighborhood.
“This is a collaborative effort that has the potential to revitalize the community,” Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras said. “I think we’re on the verge of something significant.”