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Familiar opponents face off for Roanoke City Commonwealth’s Attorney

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 4:40 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s a faceoff the city has seen before.

Independent Don Caldwell has served as Roanoke City’s Commonwealth Attorney for 42 years. It’s a streak Democratic nominee for the position Melvin Hill hopes to break.

Both candidates agree gun violence and drugs are some of the biggest issues facing the city, but their approach to solving those issues differs, with Caldwell favoring a stripped-down approach.

“My position is, we’ve had more than eight years now of criminal justice reform and what we see I think is an increase in crime,” says Caldwell. “A lot of the criminal justice reform is just not working. From my point of view, and that’s what I’m running on, we need to get back to the basics. If we can prove someone is guilty and they’ve committed a violent crime, they need to be incarcerated. They need to be removed from the street, but we need our leaders to back the police.”

Hill does think deterrence is a factor to curbing the crime, but he wants to find the cause of the issues.

“I think as a criminal justice system, we do a fairly decent job of incarcerating individuals,” he begins. “What we don’t do in the criminal justice system, and the reason I am running, is we have to do something in terms of prevention. I will partner with the police department, the Sheriff’s department, the schools, nonprofit organizations, to be involved in the community to the point where I’m talking to these young people to get them to see there’s a different way rather than sticking a gun in your waistband and firing off rounds at someone you’re having an argument with.”

For Caldwell, the duty of the Commonwealths Attorney’s office takes place in the courtroom.

“We are not a group of community activists that go out and stand on street corners. Very strongly believe that.”

Hill believes the office extends beyond the courthouse steps and says that’s what you can expect from him if elected.

“While it is a part of the job to go to court. It is a part of the job to effectively prosecute cases, it is part of the job, often times, to ask that people be incarcerated, but that’s just one part of the job. It’s not the whole job. The complete job as the criminal justice system, as an element of it, is the protection of the community.”

Caldwell says, if elected, he will build upon the standard he believes his office has already set.

“For me, it will be business as usual. We’ll still go to our core fundamental duty of prosecuting felony crimes and certain misdemeanors, that’s what our job is. Violent crime has the stage right now, but elder crime is going to be the frontier of the future. Trying to get people in this office ramped up to take on this kind of crime is going to be a goal that I’ll have for the next four years.”

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