Million-dollar idea to crack down on crime in Rutland - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Million-dollar idea to crack down on crime in Rutland

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

"Drugs are big here and it's getting worse," Penny Burch said.

Burch lives in Rutland's northwest neighborhood, an area of the city from Crescent Street to State Street that police have identified as a "hot zone" of criminal activity. They say those few blocks account for 79 percent of the city's burglaries, 80 percent of thefts, 85 percent of vandalism and 84 percent of disorderly conduct and assaults.

"When I raised my daughter here, years ago, it was a nice neighborhood," Burch said. "Now, it's scary. You're watching your neighbors. You're watching yourself because you never know what's going to happen next."

"You make sure that your doors are locked and your blinds are down," mom Veronica Cyr said.

Cyr moved to the neighborhood 7 months ago because the school district had the artistic opportunities she was looking for. But she says it's a tough place to raise kids.

"You have to watch out," Cyr said. "There's drug dealers. There's people who come down here to steal from other people and it can be a very dangerous place for kids out here."

Rutland Police say this neighborhood ties up a tremendous amount of resources. Of the 13,000 calls for service police get every year, more than half are in this neighborhood.

"For the folks that are trying to scratch out a living and working to be good citizens that live in that area, we owe it to them to make sure our focus is in that area," Rutland City Police Chief James Baker said.

And the city is looking to the feds for help. It just applied for a $1 million grant to address the mental health and substance abuse issues that police say are driving crime.

"A lot of that is driven by these issues that the police department has no control over. We're not social workers. We're not substance abuse clinicians," Baker said.

The police chief says the department has been unfairly blamed over the years for failing to solve the problem. He's now trying to forge a partnership between police, social services and state government, hoping the team effort will be more effective.

"It's got to be a total attack with all our tools on our tool belt and arresting people is only a small part of that strategy," Baker said.

If Rutland gets the grant, the plan would be to put a social worker, mental health counselor and addiction specialist inside the department, rounding out the community intervention concept. It's a strategy residents say is a good start.

"I know they're doing the best they can and city police are on guard and they're watching them," Burch said, "but it's happening and it needs to be dealt with."

City officials say they'll know by April or May if Rutland got the grant. But the police chief says his department and community partners are working on an alternative intervention strategy if the money does not come through.

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