Editorial: Much hard work lies ahead
Tuesday night, the Middlebury selectboard devoted the better part of almost two hours to discussing the recent spate of crimes in the downtown that have victimized, frustrated and terrorized downtown merchants. Some of those crimes, though not all, have been committed by individuals occasionally staying in the tent encampment underneath the Cross Street Bridge.
About 30 people attended the meeting to express their frustration and solidarity with those who have been vandalized.
That the selectboard, police chief, local state’s attorney, and several social service groups spent so much time discussing the issues and listening to the concerns of the business community was the heartening part of the meeting. That’s there is no easy fix is what’s so frustrating.
The issues are complicated. Because the space is public land, houseless people with no other place to go have a legal right to be on public property. While local police and prosecutors are using the tools they have to protect the community the best they can, their hands are often tied. And because the judicial trend of the past few decades is to use bail only when the risk of flight is great for serious felony crimes, and not for less serious crimes to confine a person’s freedom because of an inability to pay, the courts often let assailants go free (until their trial date) as soon as they are arraigned. The problem is further complicated by a surge in drug use and mental illness.
The result these past couple of months is that business owners and employees are feeling “terrorized” in a community most of us have long considered safe. The plea from the business community, and the selectboard, is accountability for the crimes must be established and tougher measures are needed for those individuals committing offenses repeatedly.
It’s a daunting problem to solve and it will involve, as many at the meeting stated, a holistic approach. To that end, a task force consisting of local law enforcement, social service agencies, business owners, housing advocates and others is being re-energized to address the issue; local police have stepped up their presence; and the selectboard has made the issue a top priority for the foreseeable future. That’s a hopeful start. Hard work lies ahead.
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