On November 15, 2023

Law enforcement needs strong legislative leadership

 

Dear Editor,

There are signs calling for lawmakers to show strong leadership to support law enforcement efforts across our state. You just have to listen to what was said at the Nov. 2 Rutland City Town Hall Public Safety meeting and at the Rutland City Board of Alderman Meeting on Nov. 6. Then take a read of Angelo Lynn’s Addison Independent editorial from Oct.19, “Upholding Law and Order: A Call for Strong Leadership in Middlebury.” Addison County is facing the same issues we’re facing in Rutland. Theft and vandalism are not isolated to Rutland and Addison Counties, this is a statewide issue. Business and property owners are crying for help and law enforcement officials scratch their heads and shrug their shoulders as a revolving-door justice system enables repeat offenders to continue their criminal behavior without facing appropriate consequences. This must stop. I know that most Rutland County Legislators are on board to address this issue during the upcoming legislative session, but we need to put a full-court press on for change from lawmakers across the state. I say bravo to Angelo Lynn, regrettably, I cannot say the same for the apparent lack of clarity exhibited by some currently serving in Montpelier, especially Addison County’s Sen. Ruth Hardy, in addressing the growing issues of retail theft and property vandalism, catch and release policies, and homelessness. It is imperative that we prioritize real policing and real consequences, including bail,  to protect our businesses and property owners to ensure the prosperity of our city.

At the Oct. 10 Middlebury Select Board meeting, Sen. Hardy showed an inability or unwillingness to understand the plain wording of the Vermont Constitution on the use of bail. Sen. Hardy repeated several times that the Vermont constitution prohibits excessive bail. “I just want to clarify and underscore that excessive bail is prohibited by our state constitution. It is not statutory,” Hardy said. “It is not something that the three of us in this room could introduce the bill about and change next session. We would have to introduce a constitutional amendment to the Vermont state constitution.” 

But no one is asking our local legislators to push for constitutional repeal of the ‘excessive bail’ provision. Instead, I and many other Vermonters ask lawmakers to bolster bail laws as permitted by the Constitution, which says: “All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.” That clause says a judge may always impose bail. “Sureties;” legal talk for, “If they jump bail, it’ll cost them.” Speaking before the Select Board, Sen. Hardy unaccountably glossed over that part while emphasizing and re-emphasizing other sections of Section II, Amendment 40. If only Vermont judges could be given the authority to act on the concept that “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties.” The bail-free catch-and-release policies currently in place contribute to a revolving-door justice system. While law enforcement is writing up and filing the case, repeat offenders walk out the revolving door to re-offend. Criminal behavior continues without offenders facing appropriate consequences.

Retail theft, as one example, has reached alarming levels, causing financial losses for local businesses, and undermining the hard work and dedication of entrepreneurs, while disheartening customers and the public. Our Legislature must step up and re-prioritize the safety and security of our home, businesses, and their customers. This includes allocating resources to enhance law enforcement presence, implementing robust surveillance systems, and fostering stronger collaboration between businesses and law enforcement officials. 

By creating an environment that deters criminal activity and ensures fair justice, we can safeguard both citizens’ safety and the livelihoods of our business community. 

So, I call on Sen. Ruth Hardy as chair of the Government Operations Committee, and other like lawmakers, to recognize and prioritize the urgency of addressing this issue and support policies that prioritize public safety, such as implementing mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and reforming the criminal justice system to emphasize both accountability and rehabilitation. 

Leniency undermines the rule of law and perpetuates a cycle of crime harmful to both perpetrator and victim alike. 

It is time for Vermont Legislators from all parties to stand up and show leadership on Public Safety issues, to improve the toolbox that is our Vermont Statutes, and support municipalities in their duties to protect the public.

Bill Gillam Jr,

Rutland Alderman 

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