BARRE — The Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office is dealing with a workload that will likely see an uptick of 300 criminal cases in 2018 compared with last year.
Officials say the increase isn’t due to a rash of more crimes being committed, in fact some areas are reporting a decrease in crime reports. The workload is taking its toll on law enforcement, however.
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said last year his office filed over 1,300 cases. This year, he said the office is on track to file 1,650 to 1,700 new cases.
“However you want to slice or dice it, that’s an increase of 250 to 300 cases without any increase in the number of personnel working here,” he said.
Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier said the number of reported crimes is down for the city, but calls for service, which include welfare checks and other safety-related duties, have gone up by 16.5 percent. Bombardier said arrests have remained relatively consistent. In a 12-month period from September 2016 to September 2017 his department conducted 419 arrests, compared with 422 arrests for the same period of time from September 2017 to this month.
He noted the number of violations of conditions of release has gone up.
Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos wrote in an email crime in the Capital City is also down 28 percent when compared with last year. Facos also noted a significant increase in people accused of violating court-assigned conditions of release.
According to the U.S. Census, Washington County has an estimated population of 58,000, comparable to Rutland County with an estimated population of 59,000. Thibault’s office is budgeted for four deputy state’s attorneys. Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy’s office has five deputies and another part-time, temporary deputy position that she received funding for through a grant.
Thibault has reached out to John Campbell, executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, looking for an additional deputy for his office. Campbell did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
Bombardier said his department is budgeted for 20 officers, but given the national standards for a city the size of Barre, he said an optimal number would be about 24 officers.
An increase in crime isn’t the cause of the increase in cases filed, Thibault said. He pointed to other factors such as an increase in people reporting crimes. Both local and state police have recently made an effort to get communities involved in solving crimes by encouraging residents to report suspicious activity, and if they “see something, say something.”
Thibault said the increase in filed cases is also due to police departments in the area finally getting staffed to capacity and filling vacant officer positions. He said that has led to an increase in cases involving people driving under the influence or with suspended licenses. More officers on the streets means more officers available to catch criminal acts while conducting routine patrols, whereas fewer officers means they are tied up responding to more immediate law enforcement needs such as a domestic assault or mental health crises.
“When a department is at full staff, they have the ability to send people to training and accrue expertise or build the connections to really understand how to work these cases,” he said.
Bombardier said the increase in those charged with driving with a suspended license or violating their conditions of release comes from Barre City being a small community. Officers recognize people when they patrol and quickly realize when someone is violating a court-ordered curfew or driving when they don’t have a valid license.
Advances in technology have also helped police address crimes that may not have made it to prosecution previously. Thibault said several times this year there have been burglaries reported that in the past would have been quite difficult to solve, but those cases have been cracked using DNA evidence found at the scene.
“That’s another thing that we’re benefiting from. But at the same time, it’s contributing to our increase in workload,” he said.
For the increase in people accused of violating conditions of release, Thibault said suspects with misdemeanors are typically cited, arraigned and released on conditions. In most cases, for someone to be held on bail in Vermont, there needs to be a risk of the defendant not showing up to court, a risk that the state needs to make a case for during arraignment. Thibault said the average domestic assault case, which is a misdemeanor, will see the accused out on conditions of release. Those conditions typically include a no-contact order involving the victim.
If that person then has contact with the victim before the case has been resolved, the suspect can be charged with a violation.
In order to address the increase in violations, Thibault said there has to be a focus on resolving cases more quickly so that those conditions no longer exist.
“Rapid resolution of cases is in the best interest of usually the offender and certainly the victim and public safety,” he said.
But he said everyone involved in the court system, including defense attorneys, court clerks and judges are constrained by time and personnel. While his office hasn’t seen an increase in personnel, the same is true for the number of court clerks and judges assigned to the courthouse in Barre.
Given the random nature of crime itself, Thibault said he didn’t know if the current flow of cases coming in would continue. He said this month has been relatively quiet when it comes to domestic assault cases, but the opposite was true earlier this year during late spring and early summer when several serious domestic assault cases were filed.
BARRE — Taking a page from a familiar playbook, trustees of the Aldrich Public Library have concluded a national search for a new director with another in-house promotion.
All they had to do was tinker with a title.
In a move that fills a key vacancy, trustees have stripped the word “interim” from Interim Library Director Loren Polk’s title and asked her to settle in to the role she had agreed to fill temporarily.
It is, by all accounts, a happy ending.
Polk gets to keep the job she agreed to fill while her predecessor, Sarah Costa, was out on maternity leave over the summer, and trustees get a test-driven and board-approved replacement for Costa, who unexpectedly resigned in May due to her family’s looming move from Barre.
Polk, who lives with her husband and three daughters in Berlin, ended up running the library while trustees searched for a permanent replacement for Costa, who was promoted to the position in 2015.
Nancy Pope, president of the library board, said in the end trustees didn’t have to look far because Polk was among those who applied for the job and she distinguished herself while serving as interim director since June.
“We had a wonderful opportunity to work with Loren over the summer and were impressed with her knowledge, positive attitude and kind heart,” Pope said of Polk, who was one of 15 applicants for the job.
Pope said the board narrowed the list and conducted several interviews — by phone and in person — before deciding to offer the job to Polk.
“We were very, very pleased with her ‘can-do’ attitude,” Pope said. “It seemed like the exact right decision to hire her.”
Polk, 39, said she wasn’t looking for permanent employment, but warmed to the idea after Costa announced her plans to resign and decided to apply for the job before the deadline in July. She’s happy she did.
“Working with the staff, collection and community at Aldrich has been a phenomenal experience,” Polk said. “I look forward to helping the library serve the community of Barre, and to bringing the stories and services of this institution to more people.”
Though Polk is relatively new to Vermont, having moved her family across the country from Washington about this time last year, she is no stranger to libraries. She previously worked in a variety of capacities, some supervisory, in four of the 12 branches of the Mid-Columbia Libraries in Kennewick, Washington. Last year she earned her master’s degree in library and information science from Wayne State University before moving to Vermont.
Polk said she was still “settling” her family when she added her name to the substitute list on the Vermont Library Association’s website. It was there that Costa spotted it while looking for someone to cover her maternity leave.
Though circumstances would later change, Pope said trustees were fortunate that Costa and Polk had an opportunity to work together while preparing for what all thought at the time would be a temporary transition. Costa’s willingness to remain on in a consulting capacity also proved useful.
Polk agreed, citing Costa’s work, as well as that of longtime library director Karen Lane, for making the Aldrich job so attractive. Costa was promoted following a national search that was launched when Lane announced her plans to retire after 26 years in 2015.
Aided my more than $130,000 in Promise Community funds and a $20,000 grant from the Tarrant Foundation, Polk said the library is now weeks away from beginning planned renovations to the Katherine Paterson Children’s Room. Work is scheduled to begin in mid-October and be finished some time in November.
During construction the children’s library will operate out of the nearby Milne Community Room.
Polk can’t take credit for any of that, though she did participate in the review of the final design. She also had a hand in filling two other vacant positions.
Pope said Polk participated in the hire of Garrett Grant as the young adult and new technology librarian, and Nick Landry to provide technical support.
“It’s her staff now,” she said of Polk, who has scheduled two “meet the director” events at the library next month.
One is set for Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. and the other is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 11, at 11 a.m.
Polk, who is eager to take responsibility for the next chapter in the library’s story, wants to talk about its varied programs and services and role in the community.
“The best thing about libraries is that we can have this mix of contemporary use, community space and information and historical services,” she said, suggesting that, thanks to her predecessors, Aldrich checks all those boxes and then some.
“I’m just excited to be here,” she said. “It’s a great place.”
Two Vermont nurses will be the first from the state, and the first Americans, to present at the Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home-Visiting, or MESCH, International Conference in Melbourne, Australia, next month.
Katy Leffel, a maternal child health supervisor from Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice in Barre, and Heidi Gillespie, a clinical manager of children and family services at the Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice of the Southwest Region in Rutland, will represent Vermont, the only state participating in MESCH, at the conference on Oct. 17 and 18.
Gillespie said the presentation she and Leffel would make was called “MESCH in the Green Mountains: The Vermont Experience.”
MESCH is an international program with a goal of making mothers and children healthier by providing a range of services both before and after the baby is born, lasting through the child’s second birthday.
Gillespie said the long-term relationship allows trust to develop between nurses and mothers, which allows the mothers to ask questions and allows nurses to help the mothers find resources. Before MESCH, the Vermont program was limited to moms who were less than 28 weeks pregnant and having their first child, and the mother had to stay in the program a full two years.
The other countries that participate in MESCH, Australia (where it started), the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and South Korea, offer universal health care unlike the U.S.
She was one of the first nurses to be trained in the MESCH model, Leffel said. The new program struggled initially because it used Medicaid funding, which often has low reimbursement.
“It costs agencies money to provide Medicaid services. That’s just a reality. … To the credit of our (visiting nurses association’s) in Vermont, almost all of them still embraced the program and trained the nurses and let them do it, even though it was costing them money,” she said.
MESCH is now funded through a federal grant which Leffel said had “transformed” how well it could be implemented.
Leffel said Vermont maternity nurses are trying to change the perception that a home visit would only take place when something is wrong rather than to provide care that prevents health problems for the baby or mother.
“What we’re going to be speaking on is the difference,” Gillespie said. “How it’s accepted from the moms, how it’s looked at differently in our population than it is in theirs.”
In Australia and the UK, features like a home visit from a nurse to an expectant mother, or after the baby is born, is an expected service, not something unusual as it’s perceived in the U.S.
“The challenge is getting referrals, getting in touch with the moms, having the moms accept the program so we can work with them through pregnancy and early childhood. That’s probably our biggest challenge different from the other countries that offer the program,” she said.
Gillespie said MESCH was necessary to help keep babies and mothers healthy.
“The mom could be in a situation where she’s limited income or she hasn’t finished high school yet or she’s in recovery or she is struggling with finding a place to live. Well, that baby is going to be born no matter what her circumstances are so what we want to teach these moms is to parent effectively despite their circumstances,” she said.
Gillespie said her support of MESCH has a personal component. Gillespie, who has been a nurse for about four years, said she had always wanted to be a nurse but that goal was delayed when she became pregnant at 17
“I always wanted to work with moms who were in the same situation that I was when I was 17,” she said.
MESCH has been in Vermont for about four years and the program is expected to be statewide on Oct. 1. Vermont was allowed to join MESCH because it already had the statewide Child Integrative Services program that offered an umbrella of services.
Leffel said the MESCH program was an effective complement to what Child Integrative Services offers.
Gillespie said when she and Leffel are in Australia, they expect to spend the first three days going to MESCH agencies to learn from how it’s already being done.
Leffel said she was really excited by that prospect.
“(Vermont is) the first state in America (to join MESCH) so when we have questions, there isn’t like a sort of American model of doing things,” she said.
Both Leffel and Gillespie said they had not made public presentations like this one before.
“It’s exciting,” Leffel said.
RUTLAND — James Baker, former Rutland police chief, has been awarded the Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial, Community Leadership for his service in Rutland and Arlington.
Plainfield resident Cornelius “Con” Hogan, for whom the award is named, passed away in August. Hogan worked to improve the communities of Vermont by listening to others and seeking out knowledge from others on topics he did not know much about to address issues he worked to solve and made a difference in Vermont, according to the Vermont Community Foundation, which oversees the award. He was a longtime public servant who worked for the Vermont Agency of Human Services, the Corrections Department and most recently the Green Mountain Care Board.
“It’s pretty humbling to receive an award that’s named after him and be compared to the work that he did in his career,” Baker said.
Baker has dedicated his life to serving the communities in which he lives. He said collaboration is important to accomplish a common goal of improving the community
Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, nominated Baker for the award because she recognized how vital he had been in the revitalization of Rutland while he was police chief.
“I think he has that rare quality of combining compassion, transparency, data and that fierce and inspirational leadership to actually get results,” Powell said.
As part of this award, Baker will receive $15,000. He has not decided what he wants to do with the money, he said in an interview.
Baker came to Rutland in 2012 to serve as chief of police after serving as colonel and director of the Vermont State Police. He played a huge role in transforming the Rutland community, which was struggling because of the opiate crisis and the community’s lack of trust in the police department.
“He was at the forefront of a transformation within the actual department that he was leading, but he was also a huge part of the revitalization and the transformation of Rutland,” Powell said.
He created collaborative initiatives to address the challenges the city was facing, such as his work to help create Project VISION and bring together the resources of Rutland.
He recognized that the opiate crisis was not a problem the police department alone could solve.
“When I got there, it was obvious to me that we were dealing with a situation that was not going to be resolved by arresting our way out of it, and that we really had to collaborate with the resources,” Baker said.
So he started having social workers, mental health professionals, people within the medical community and many other professionals work in the police department, so they could all work together to address the hardships. This collaboration led to creation of Project VISION, Baker said.
Also, Baker spoke with David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to figure out how they could use data to help. The police department began collecting data from certain neighborhoods that were seen as part of the problem and then narrowing it down to streets and specific locations. They then used the data and the professionals who were housed in the department to find resolutions, he said.
“It was very deliberate; he committed himself to adopting a strategy that would transform the community, with the police department leading that transformation,” former Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras said.
The police department had been struggling as well when Baker came to the department — the community did not trust police because of accusations of racism and scandals that had occurred.
“Baker recognized that the entire department would have to change its mindset and culture,” Louras said.
To do that, Baker said, he set a standard officers had to abide by in order to remain in the department.
Baker now lives in Arlington, where he is a leader in an effort to revitalize the community through connecting it with its history, with some of the same collaborative methods he used.