By Katy Savage
Being a police officer took on a different meaning for James Baker when he became chief of the Rutland City Police Department in 2012.
Instead of policing and stopping cars and hoping to find a criminal activity, he looked to the root cause of an issue.
“The impact of the opiate crisis—I got to see it very close. It broadened my outlook,” he said.
He realized it was issue that went beyond the work of a single police force. He worked with dozens of organizations and used data to focus on who and where problems were stemming from within the community.
Baker, who was the police chief in Rutland between 2012 and 2015, was recently awarded the Con Hogan award for his service.
“I had no idea I was nominated when I got the phone call,” said Baker, who now lives in Arlington.
The $15,000 Con Hogan Award, initiated in 2015, is a tribute to Con Hogan’s life and commitment to public service. The goal of the award is to encourage and reward leaders who share Hogan’s vision. The award goes to someone with a track record for making a difference with generosity and enthusiasm. Hogan, who led multiple state agencies, died Aug. 26.
Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell said Baker embodied those qualities. “Real leadership isn’t easy, it’s actually exhausting,” said Powell, who nominated Baker for the award. “He’s passionate and he’s willing to throw himself in 150 percent, even when he might not feel like it. When he might not have the energy, he creates the energy.”
Baker started his police career in upstate New York. He worked for the Vermont State Police for 31 years and then retired as a colonel from the Vermont State Police, serving as its director from 2006-2009. Baker was named interim director of the Vermont Police Academy before he was asked to help clean up Rutland as it faced opiate addiction issues. What was meant to be a six-month interim position turned into three years.
“I fell in love with that city,” said Baker. “If was younger in my career…I would have stayed longer.”
He worked 12-to-14-hour days at times.
“I was at the place where I felt like it was time for someone else,” he said.
Baker is not here anymore and Rutland still has work to do to resolve its drug issues, but several people said Baker’s laid the groundwork for progress.
Steve Costello worked with Baker through Project Vision, a nonprofit focused on building community leaders to collaboratively move Rutland forward.
“He’s by far one of the most powerful and insightful leaders I’ve ever worked with,” said Costello. “He knows how to get things done. He knows how to build coalitions and focus people’s energy in a positive way.”
Baker was diagnosed with cancer this winter, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. He is now a consultant who helps national police recruitment efforts. He’s trying to positively change his home community of Arlington, Vermont in the same way he tried to better Rutland.
“At his core, he loves people. He wants to make the world a better place,” said Powell.
Korrine Rodrigue, a friend of Baker’s who also worked with him on Project VISION, said “He was really about bringing people together. He talked about the issues. He was very transparent. You basically wanted to be part of what he was doing.”
Baker will be presented the Con Hogan award at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier rom 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3.