RUTLAND -- The rise of drug addiction in the city of Rutland is "mind boggling" and has led to chaos in some of the neighborhoods, Police Chief James Baker said at a news conference Monday, hosted by the federal prosecutor in Vermont.
While Baker said Rutland remains a safe city, the drug addiction problems have led to cases of local school children who may have mental problems because their parents are addicts and police involvement in what previously would have been simple issues, such as local parking disputes, escalating into fist fights.
"It rips the social fiber of these neighborhoods apart," Baker said. "It’s not like we have wild shootouts on the streets or people knifing people. It’s the chaos in the neighborhoods that cause us to have a difficult time marketing Rutland as a place to come work and play."
U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said the problem with heroin and other illegal drugs in the city of about 16,000 has been getting worse in recent years and law enforcement is going to step up its anti-drug fight.
"We’d like the word to get out to the public that we have significant resources arrayed to bring this kind of activity down and bring offenders to justice," Coffin said. "If people from any place in Vermont, or away, think they can come here and make a good profit selling drugs, they need to know that there are significant forces allied to make sure that the costs of doing that are quite high."
The news conference followed a number of high-profile drug arrests and prosecutions in recent months across Vermont. Last summer, a suspect was arrested with 6,500 bags of heroin and $130,000 in cash.
"That level of heroin trafficking in Vermont is something that I’ve never seen before," Coffin said.
Coffin said that since about 2009 the problem of abuse of heroin and prescription narcotics in Rutland has been getting worse. Most of the drugs are coming in from East Coast cities like New York or cities in western Massachusetts. But it has also come from as far away as Philadelphia, Detroit or Chicago.
"The level of addiction in the city of Rutland is mind boggling. There is no other way to describe it," Baker said.
Coffin added: "It has really affected the fabric of this city in a major way in a relatively short period of time."
Big city gang activity in the area is increasing as well, said Coffin, who is planning a similar news conference next week in Burlington.
Coffin and others at the news conference said enforcement efforts have to be accompanied by drug treatment and education programs that will keep people from becoming addicted.