Editorial: Psychotherapy treatment center should move off Beacon Street
RTT Associates, which describes itself as a forensic psychotherapy treatment center, should not fight to stay in its current location on Beacon Street. A counseling center that serves sex offenders, people with anger management problems or a history of domestic abuse does not belong in a residential neighborhood. The city’s zoning administrator, Craig Walker, recognized that and rescinded the company’s special exemption to operate out of its space in a brick building converted to offices. In hindsight, granting the exemption was a mistake.
RTT, which also operates counseling centers in Manchester and Rochester, moved to the Beacon Street location in 2005, in violation of the zoning ordinance that limits social service centers to one of four zones, none of which are primarily residential.
New Hampshire does not require that people who counsel sex offenders be licensed, and the RTT Associates website does not list its employees and their credentials. The city did not learn about the company and the nature of its business until two years ago. When it did, the absence of problems attributed to the center between 2005 and 2011 contributed to the decision to grant the exception.
That track record came to an end May 10 when the police arrested David Mandigo, a 42-year-old sex offender and client of the center and charged him with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. The girl’s mother found Mandigo kneeling in the girl’s bedroom at 4 a.m. with his hands beneath the covers and on the girl’s posterior. He was arrested the same day.
RTT’s lawyer, Roger Chadwick, told Monitor reporter Laura McCrystal that he may challenge the city’s order to move because the business has “been operating there for approximately eight years without any incidents whatsoever.” The latter statement, however, is insupportable. Many crimes involving sexual abuse or domestic violence go unreported. Even if true, the track record is irrelevant. The fact remains that a social service counseling center does not belong in a residential neighborhood, and the presence of one engenders fear in neighbors and diminishes the value of their property.
Nor is it relevant that the center was closed for the evening when the assault occurred. The building’s windows overlook a street on which many children play, and the girl’s home can be seen from the counseling center. The police do not believe Mandigo’s alleged victim was chosen at random.
The city has given the building’s owner, David Ossoff, 14 days to evict RTT, appeal the decision or request more time to comply. In this case, despite the fears of the neighbors, more time, say 30 days’ notice, is appropriate. Services like those provided by RTT, which also counsels victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, are critical, especially in a city that will soon be home to two prisons. The city should assist RTT in finding a new home in an appropriate zone to minimize any interruption in the treatment of those who need it.
Moving RTT should make people in that central-city neighborhood feel a bit safer, but not, we hope, too safe. Concord is home to 238 registered sex offenders. Many will never offend again, but some will. Several live in that neighborhood, and more than a half-dozen of the offenders list their address as a van, car or tent.
The Concord police keep close tabs on known offenders, but they can’t monitor everyone all the time. Vigilance is called for, as are precautions like forcing the treatment center to move. Children must be safe in their beds.