By Adam Federman, VTDigger.org
From June 26 to July 9 there were 346 total calls for service to the Rutland Police Department, a sharp uptick from the same two-week period last year, when there were only 292 calls.
What do those numbers tell us?
Not much, according to Robin Weber, director of research at the Crime Research Group, who presented the figures before the Rutland Police Commission Monday night, July 11.
Calls for service are distinct from actual crimes committed and range from suspicious person reports and citizen’s assist — the two most common calls — to burglary and violence. Not all calls for service result in an arrest.
Weber said the increase could be attributed in part to the influx of people who attended the Rainbow Gathering, a particularly busy Fourth of July weekend, or something as incidental as a faulty alarm going off every day.
“It just tells you that it [the calls for service] happened,” Weber said. “That the police department was really busy.”
CRG has a contract with the Rutland Police Department and reports to the police commission every month.
Scott Tucker, community outreach commander for the Rutland Police Department and executive director of Project VISION, says that calls for service have gone down annually since 2013. They dropped 8.6 percent from 2013 to 2014 and about 5 percent last year.
Nonetheless Tucker says, “We encourage people to call all the time.” Building trust between the police department and the broader community is at the heart of Project VISION, which facilitates cooperation between law enforcement and social services agencies. The collaboration has been credited with reducing crime rates in Rutland over the last two to three years. Burglaries are down 60 percent and thefts and shoplifting about 40 percent.
That’s important, Tucker says, because those are the sorts of crimes “people seeking drugs are involved in.”
In some communities, overdose deaths raise the alarm about drug use, but in Rutland the telltale sign was a spike in petty theft. About four years ago there was a notable increase in burglaries in Rutland, says Korinne Rodrigue, a public health researcher and co-founder of Project VISION. Rodrigue, who lives in Rutland Town and is running for State Senate, says her own home was broken into by a couple of addicts.
Addressing theft and burglary was one way of tackling the heroin crisis.
Tucker says mid-year numbers for 2016 suggest that the trend line for property crimes will continue to decline. So far, there have been 31 burglaries and 38 thefts.
Weber says the drop in the burglary rate can largely be attributed to a public service campaign that encouraged people to lock their doors and windows — not something Vermonters are necessarily accustomed to — in conjunction with the broader coordinated efforts of Project Vision.
“It was a very effective campaign,” Weber said.
While burglary and theft may be down, aggravated assault, and, in particular, incidents of domestic violence, went up markedly in Rutland between 2014 and 2015. There was a nearly 40 percent increase from 42 to 58 reported cases. A large number of those cases involved strangulation or other forms of physical violence. Figures for the past year are not yet available.
According to a 2015 Vermont Attorney General’s report, 50 percent of all homicides in Vermont had a link to domestic violence over the decade between 1994 and 2014. Rutland County has one of the highest domestic violence homicide rates in the state — well out of proportion to its population.
Yet the more recent increase in reported domestic violence incidents doesn’t necessarily indicate that the problem has gotten worse.
Avaloy Lanning, executive director of the Rutland County Women’s Shelter and Network, says the figures may indicate that more women are coming forward to report domestic violence crimes. Lanning says that the number of women reporting to the shelter, the only one of its kind in Rutland, has been consistent for many years.
Though the shelter encourages victims to report to law enforcement they are never obligated to do so. The fact that more and more women are turning to law enforcement in domestic violence cases suggests a greater degree of trust in the police, Lanning says.
“We believe what is happening in Rutland is due to this coordinated community effort to say, ‘this is not OK in our community,’ said Lanning. “People are feeling more safe to come forward and report.”
“As the trust level increases we may be seeing more reports of domestic violence,” Tucker said.
The police department is now focusing more resources on combating domestic violence with some of the same methods and techniques that have been used to address the heroin crisis.
The department is working with the National Network for Safe Cities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. David Kennedy, director of the network, developed the Drug Marketplace Intervention method employed in Rutland over the last few years.
The department is in the early stages of analyzing domestic violence data, Tucker says, and have submitted a grant proposal on the issue to the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.