Home Uncategorized After the Robbery at Capitol Deli, What Should Businesses Do?

After the Robbery at Capitol Deli, What Should Businesses Do?

by Mike Dunphy
December 27 was like any sub-zero day at the Capitol Deli in Montpelier, with the usual comings and goings of cars gassing up outside and people popping in for a quick coffee or snack before moving on with the day. A very different customer walked in the front door around 6:30 pm. Covered in a light blue, hooded parka and a facemask, and described as being a white male between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 6 inches tall, he pointed a semi-automatic handgun at the clerk and demanded the cash. The clerk complied. The robber fled. The police were called.
On top of the expected shock that such a crime would occur in Montpelier, which has not seen an armed robbery since 2015, was the high-traffic time of day it occurred and its proximity to the State House.
Perhaps even more disturbing was a scene described by the owner of Down Home Kitchen, Mary Alice Proffitt, who walked by the deli two days after the robbery on her way to see a film at the Capitol Theatre:
I dropped my friend off to get tickets, and because it was crowded, I parked on the side street toward the river and was walking by the deli, which was lit up, when I noticed a visibly worried looking woman inside behind the counter. I went in to see what was wrong. As soon as I opened the door I smiled at her and said, “Are you okay?” This small, wiry, middle aged woman, obviously the only staff member in the building, was cowering behind the counter shaking. She said, “No, I’m not.” And I went around the counter and opened my arms up, and she ran to me and started crying. I hugged her for a few minutes and listened to her through her tears as she said that she had been held up by an armed robber and terrified for her life. The next day she was told that she had to return to work right away or she would lose her job. When I asked her where her boss was and why he wasn’t there with her, she said that he wouldn’t come in. She said that she lived in Barre, and that this was the best job she could get, and she didn’t want to lose it.
The Bridge has reached out to Champlain Farms, which owns Capitol Deli, to discuss the incident but has not been able to get a response.
Whatever the case, the story raises an important question. How should locals and businesses react when such incidents occur? Indeed, it seems that although there are tremendous efforts dedicated to crime prevention (for example, “If you see something, say something”), fewer are aimed at addressing the aftermath, or at least communicating what resources are available to locals, business owners, and the public alike.
First, Montpelier Chief of Police Anthony Facos wants to stress that Montpelier remains a very safe place. “Overall crime is down over 13 percent here in the city, but, unfortunately, 2017 was book-ended by two very violent crimes. In January we had a murder and then on December 27 we had this armed robbery at the Capitol Deli, but overall, crime wise, it’s a pretty good bill of health.
”As to the cause of the Capitol Deli robbery, he can’t comment on the ongoing investigation. However, it’s a good bet drugs are part of the equation. “I cannot even think of a robbery or burglary that’s been solved, and when we’ve had the opportunity to interview the suspects involved,” he explains, “when it wasn’t linked to drugs. I’m not going to say 100 percent, but that is the number one driver, not only in Montpelier, but across Vermont.
”He also points to programs that help address this issue such as Project Safe Catch, which allows drug addicts to dispose of the drugs through the police without arrest, and ideally, get assistance in finding treatment programs. “We want to just get you help and start that support, so you don’t do something that is so desperate you grab a gun and put it in a clerk’s face to score your next bundle of heroin.
”Whatever the cause and details that eventually come out about the Capitol Deli robbery, it doesn’t help the clerk who suffered the trauma of a gun in the face. As to how businesses should treat such employees, Facos doesn’t want to dictate specific policies, but he does think the businesses need to understand that it’s not a normal situation to go through. There is trauma.
“I would encourage business owners to make sure the employee is okay mentally and physically. I’m not going to make recommendations to the private sector, but be aware thatthe body just went through a lot.
”One place to which businesses and victims can reach out is Montpelier’s Community Justice Center, one of 20 such centers in the state. There, they focus on what’s called “restorative justice,” which the website defines as “a victim-focused, community-based approach for responding to crime that focuses on the harm that was caused and what needs to happen to make things better. The goal is to build understanding, encourage accountability, and provide an opportunity for healing.”
“We focus on making the most positive outcome possible out of a negative situation in the world of criminal offending,” explains center director Yvonne Byrd, “focusing on the needs of those who have been harmed and the responsibilities of those who’ve caused harm. Basically trying to resolve things through dialogue and actions that make amends and understanding.
”This often means bringing together both victim and perpetrator for direct dialogue, which for many, helps give closure to the trauma of the event. “When someone does meet face to face the person who broke into their house, all of the assumptions they made are clarified and corrected by actual information and it’s a lot less scary. Ninety-nine percent of the time you walk away thinking, ‘I don’t have to be afraid of that person.’
”However, violent crimes such as the one at Capitol Deli are not normally in the center’s purview, as it normally handles misdemeanors and property crimes. Plus, because they work with the police department, they cannot contact anyone until given clearance.
As to available resources for people who are victims of violent crimes, it depends on the community and often the crime. “We do have a number of victim service organizations in the state and victims’ advocates at the state’s attorneys’ offices. We have specialized victims services and advocates who work with victims of sexual assault and domestic assault. We’ve got a pretty good statewide system with that.” says Byrd.
Like Facos, Byrd recommends that business owners make every effort to speak with employees after the event and to consider the trauma experienced. “Assuming it’s business as usual is probably not the best approach,” she reflects. Plus, the business owners may project their own reactions and concerns onto their employees, which can impede any resolution.
From the standpoint of the clerk, for example, she said, “Let’s say you’re the owner of Champlain Farms. It’s going to be upsetting to you to have your store robbed. What’s upsetting you is really different than what’s upsetting me; I was there and had the gun pointed at me. I’m not going to be thinking at all about your business reputation or material losses; I’m thinking about my personal safety and reliving that image.
”As with everything, better communication is part of the answer. “Maybe we should do some kind of community forum or education about how business owners support employees,” she considers, “and more generically how we as a community rally around people who have been victims of crime.” Luckily, she points out, the Montpelier community already does that in informal ways, noting the support for the family after the murder in 2017.
Perhaps updating the methods of communication could also help. For example, the police do give people a list of resources when they talk to a crime victim, but do people read that? “Probably not so much,” Byrd reflects. “If someone hands me a sheet filled with text, first I’m gonna have to get my glasses.
”Whatever the case, the healing begins with a conversation that says, “We know this happened to you; your community cares about you; how can we help?”