Pubdate: Tue, 27 Oct 2015
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2015 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist


RUTLAND, Vt. - It's morning, and local and State Police cruisers 
already are crisscrossing an opioid-ravaged neighborhood of this 
small city. Rutland police Sergeant Matthew Prouty slows to a crawl 
past boarded-up homes. His radio crackles with questions about an 
out-of-state license plate.

Within minutes, he has pulled over a car and put a Rutland mother of 
five through a battery of drug-sobriety tests. Neighbors stop and 
watch, some on the sidewalk, some on their porches.

This small grid of blighted streets in the city's Northwest section 
is the hardest-hit neighborhood in perhaps the hardest-hit community 
in a state reeling from opioid addiction. But house by house, block 
by block, the city is working to reclaim its streets - offering a 
rare glimmer of hope in the fatal opioid crisis that has afflicted 
communities across New England.

In Rutland, the number of crimes related to drug use is plummeting, 
hundreds of people are receiving addiction treatment, and notorious 
drug dens are being razed and replaced by parks. It's an aggressive 
counterattack, called Project Vision, that has enlisted residents and 
community leaders in a sweeping collaboration that is gaining 
national attention.

"We're a community on the rise," said Sandy Fitzgerald, a 59-year-old 
woman who stood near a Northwest intersection long known for its 
brazen drug trade. A few weeks ago, a block party was held there.

The all-hands-on-deck philosophy behind Project Vision is familiar to 
many communities battling the opioid scourge: By sharing ideas and 
resources, cities and towns can be more effective.

But Rutland, population 16,500, has embraced that thinking in a big 
way. Since it was launched in late 2012, before opioid addiction 
began gaining widespread attention, Project Vision has attracted more 
than 300 members from 100 disparate agencies, and they meet regularly.

Mental health clinicians and correction officers, among others, are 
embedded in the police station to help officers take back the city. 
Social workers accompany police on some calls; advocates for victims 
of domestic violence ride along, too.

It's an open-arms approach that seeks to help troubled residents 
rather than simply build up arrest and incarceration numbers.

"It's not a police problem that needs to be solved. It's not a health 
problem. It's a community coming together," said police Commander 
Scott Tucker, executive director of Project Vision. "Building great 
neighborhoods is really the focus of what everybody is trying to do."

On Tuesday, in Chicago, Rutland police planned to speak to the 
International Association of Chiefs of Police about their approach to 
opioid addiction. It's a challenge starkly at odds with the idyllic 
view of Vermont as a laid-back, bucolic paradise.

Rutland had once been a railroad hub that shipped marble worldwide 
from nearby quarries. But when that industry declined, many residents 
moved out and sold their homes to indifferent landlords who 
subdivided them into low-rent apartments.

Lorraine Bedard, 82, lives in the Northwest home she has shared with 
her husband, Donald, since the late 1950s. The two-story house is 
neat and well-maintained, but nearby is a succession of boarded-up 
and dilapidated homes with a sordid history of drug use.

Prouty showed how various neighborhoods in the city receive resources 
based on need.

"It was heartbreaking," Bedard said of the neighborhood's 
transformation from family-friendly to dangerous. Several residents 
said that despite the improvements, they will not allow their 
children to walk to a nearby park, even in daylight.

"This area is drug central," said James Hodgdon, 42, a recovering 
opioid addict, as he stood a block away. "You have crack houses. You 
have heroin houses."

A sense of safety is slowly returning. Donald Bedard, who owns a 
small store across from his home, credits an increased police 
presence. Sometimes, he said, officers spend an entire afternoon in 
the neighborhood, walking from door to door, talking with residents, 
listening to concerns and suggestions.

It's old-school policing, complemented by intense attention to data 
that direct officers to the worst problem areas. Once there, Prouty 
said, police might park their cruisers outside a suspect's home for a 
weekend or pull up chairs on the sidewalk and watch for hours.

"We can make a location radioactive," Prouty said.

Such attention is part of a plan to disrupt the markets where drug 
buyers and sellers come together, a strategy encouraged by David 
Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities, a 
project of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Eliminating either the supply of drugs or the demand for them has 
proven impossible, said Kennedy, who helped devise Operation 
Ceasefire in Boston, the 1990s effort to curb youth gun violence. But 
by disrupting the marketplaces - by clearing them of drug traffic and 
keeping them clear - the areas eventually are no longer seen as drug 
markets and return to normal, Kennedy said.

The strategy is paying off in Rutland, authorities said.

Since fiscal 2013, crimes linked to drug use have dropped 
dramatically. Burglaries are down 53 percent; larceny and theft from 
motor vehicles, 31 percent; disorderly conduct, 37 percent; and 
vandalism, 49 percent.

"People are beginning to speak out. Before, they were scared," said 
the Rev. Hannah Rogers, pastor of Rutland United Methodist Church.

The road to hope also is being paved at a downtown drug clinic, which 
opened in 2013 and now provides treatment to more than 400 people. 
And it's being built nail by nail in the Northwest neighborhood, 
where private investors are renovating crumbling and abandoned homes.

Authorities here shrug their shoulders when asked why Rutland became 
a regional hub for heroin. Kennedy said the choice of Rutland might 
simply be an accident that, through word of mouth, shifted into a crisis.

"Brooklyn dealers came up and off-loaded their product, and people 
from other neighborhoods started going into the neighborhoods where 
heroin was being sold. Then, others from the outside came in," Kennedy said.

Although Rutland is seeing positive signs, opioid addiction might 
take generations to curb in a city where the menacing and the mundane 
are close together. On one block, Prouty, the police sergeant, 
pointed to a school, a church, a doctor's office, and a den of drugs 
and prostitution.

"I bet you there is not one family in this whole county who does not 
have somebody who has an addiction issue" with drugs or alcohol, said 
Tracie Hauck, director of the Turning Point Center of Rutland, which 
offers counseling and drug-prevention services.

Still, Rutland officials say they have found something in their mix 
of collaboration and pinpoint policing.

"There's violent people out there, and there are people creating 
chaos out there, and those people need to spend time in jail," said 
Tucker, the police commander. "But there are also those who have 
created a mess out of their lives and deserve a second chance."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom