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Acting Burlington Police Chief Discusses Staffing Concerns

photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium
Photo - Pat Bradley/WAMC
photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium

The acting chief of the Burlington, Vermont Police Department is speaking out about the current and potential future impacts of a resolution passed by the City Council earlier this year that mandates a 30% reduction in sworn officers.

On June 29th the Burlington City Council passed a Racial Justice through Economic and Criminal Justice resolution. Among its provisions is a requirement that the police department decrease the number of uniformed police officers by 30% through attrition. The dollars saved by those reductions are to be used for “a variety of social services, as well as social justice, racial justice, and economic justice initiatives…”
Burlington Police Department Acting Chief Jon Murad held a virtual press conference recently to discuss how the resolution is impacting the department.  “We have been seeing officers depart and we are not rehiring those officers after they do depart. And that has certain implications for how we are able to continue to provide services when we're called.”

Murad said staffing is down 15% from their previous average sworn officer staffing level and departures are accelerating. One officer has filed for retirement, some officers are scheduled for National Guard deployment and others have applied or are in the hiring process at other law enforcement agencies.  “Of the eight sworn five were persons who filed exit paperwork that stated it was the City Council. The most recent person to resign stated in our interview that she had concerns about support. She had concerns about after-action consideration of in-the-moment decisions that officers make and the way in which those will be judged. She also however mentioned that, you know, it's not just Burlington that she knows that the profession in general is changing.”

Murad says the impending losses of sworn officers and inability to replace them has led to a scenario they must consider.  “We anticipate being at 79 sworn effective by the beginning of the next tour on January 3. And when we get to approximately 76 sworn and approximately 36 officers available for patrol we will no longer be able to deploy overnight coverage. And that's something that I think we need to know as a community that there will be no proactive midnight patrol.  The midnight shift is not something that we are thinking about ending lightly. This is a serious move. We cannot however have officers proactively patrolling the streets when there's only one or two for the entire city. Instead we would have a night watch for response to a small number of serious crimes.”

This summer Burlington YMCA director Kyle Dodson was appointed to a temporary position as the city’s Director of Police Transformation.  He says community voices are critical as the police department wrestles with staffing levels.  “The idea that Burlington go from 105 budgeted sworn officers to 74 through a process of attrition was a resolution of the Council. I don't believe singlehandedly that the mayor nor the chief nor I has the ability or authority to change that. So it will be community conversations about how we feel about the stress and the pressures on the police force. What that will mean to their ability to carry out services as they have historically without some new model, some new framework, some new structure defining how that work is done.  The purpose of this press conference is to take what was an internal conversation and make it a comprehensive community conversation about the pressures and stresses that currently exist and how we want to handle them.”