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Police Chief James Baker said Wednesday that Project VISION has struggled to find neighborhood leaders.

From the Rutland Herald October 10, 2014

“It’s so crucial to us to have a group we can reach out and touch to get that feedback,” he said. “I can get the answers I’m looking for, but I need to get the answers I’m not looking for.”

Baker spoke over coffee and pie with about a half-dozen residents seated around the table of James and Elise Cassarino’s Brown Street home. The small, informal meeting, also attended by Rep. Herb Russell, D-Rutland, was part of the community outreach effort continuing under Project VISION.

Whether or not he found the leaders he was looking for in the Southwest neighborhood that night, he did get feedback on issues ranging from at-risk youth to shoplifting.

A survey of residents in the neighborhood listed squatters as one of the major concerns. Baker said a particular problem address would soon get a visit from the Building and Zoning Department as a result of a neighborhood walk-through he did.

Baker said the police department’s mapping program enables it to reach out to landlords when a particular address has recurring problems. However, he said this was an area where the Legislature could help.

“There needs to be a focus on some legislation protecting landlords,” he said. “It’s become so lopsided. There are a lot of landlords in the city working hard to do the right thing.”

Russell said he has heard a number of complaints about people receiving public assistance for rent and using it for “other things.” He said it seemed like a simple solution would be to have the state make direct payments to landlords, but that idea has met resistance.

“I’ll just say it — there are bleeding hearts who don’t want to make any changes,” he said.

Russell said he introduced a bill to that effect two years ago, but it failed. He said he was talking to other members of the city delegation and intends to try again.

Baker said he was looking at creating satellite offices for the department in various locations throughout the city, one of them in space that might be shared with the Boys & Girls Club in the community center of Hickory Street Apartments.

“It isn’t about having somebody there to respond when there’s a problem,” Baker said. “It’s about having somebody there in the community in prevention mode.”

Baker said having police officers interacting with the community, especially youth, builds connections. He said he continues to support the DARE program because, even if research indicates it has little effect on drug use, the officer involved serves as a role model to the youth enrolled.

“Coming out of the DARE program, I had a couple kids shadowing me for a day who want to be police officers,” he said.

Baker, who noted he recently joined the board of the Boys & Girls Club, said enrollments in the free and reduced lunch program put the number of children in city schools close enough to the poverty line to be considered “at-risk” at about 1,400. He said between the club and the school system’s Tapestry program, about 300 are enrolled in after-school activities.

“That leaves 1,100 kids on the table who are at risk, who are not getting that support,” he said.

Baker said the city needs to not just make sure there are recreation programs to get children involved in, but also to bring registration forms to parents, get them filled out, and get financial aid to cover activity fees for the families that need it.

“That could be the one thing that turns the kid’s life around — they meet a friend, they meet a coach, they meet a mentor,” he said.

Gail Johnson, a resident who helped organized the meeting, talked about involving neighborhood seniors in a “foster grandparents” program, saying it builds a sense of community in youth when they know more people in the neighborhood.

Johnson said if a neighborhood organization in Southwest started some sort of after-school program, she could come up with materials such as desks, chairs, white boards and bookcases as an in-kind contribution.

Johnson said she hoped to schedule another such meeting for the winter and to hold them on a quarterly basis.

Gordon Dritschilo at The Rutland Herald

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