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Burlington City Council Considers And Then Changes Public Safety Plan

The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall (file)

The Burlington, Vermont City Council passed a Public Safety Continuity Plan at Monday night’s meeting. But amendments to the proposal fundamentally changed the intent of the mayor’s proposal.
In June 2020, the Burlington city council passed a Racial Justice Through Economic and Criminal Justice resolution requiring the police department reduce the number of officers to 74.

The acting police chief has warned that when that cap is reached the department will be unable to staff the department from 3:30 until 7:30 in the morning.

A “Public Safety Continuity Plan” was before the city council for approval at Monday’s meeting.  Proposed by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat running for a fourth term on Town Meeting Day March 2nd, it would create new Community Service Officer and Community Support Liaison positions. It would also raise the cap on sworn officers to 84.

Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower amended the proposal to increase the number of community support positions but maintain a cap of 74 on sworn officers.  “I don’t think we’re in a crisis. I still believe that the target should be 74. We need to start looking for the alternatives. And so I am excited about this resolution and what it does to move us forward on the alternatives which I think is long overdue. But I cannot support raising the cap at the same time.”   

North District Democrat Franklin Paulino felt this was the most consequential vote he had faced in his two years as a city councilor.  "We’re going to essentially agree right now to not even address the immediate issue that our constituents are asking us to act on. By September 2021 it is likely there will be 38 officers for patrol, less than 38, and that is a problem and people want a solution to that. They want us to vote yes or no on that. And I am  so frustrated that I can’t.”

South District Democrat Joan Shannon was critical of the process the sponsor took to amend the Public Safety Continuity Plan.  “I received this at 4:36 this afternoon. I think it’s really inappropriate when we have had this proposal since December and it was on our agenda two weeks ago to be coming to the meeting with new changes that haven’t been vetted by our professional staff or by the public.”

Mayor Weinberger said the amendment is similar to his plan in relation to the creation and funding of Community Service and Community Support Liaison officers.  He said the clear purpose of the amendment was to block the administration’s proposal that the police department staffing cap move from 74 to 84.  “This is a consequential vote. No one can assert that it isn’t totally clear that the outcome of this vote will be to lose an overnight shift and to force the city to curtail public safety services that our residents our constituents have long expected. That is what this vote is about. Make no mistake. A vote yes for this amendment is a vote to go over the edge into that crisis.”

The amendment was approved 7 to 5 on a party line vote. All the Progressives, including Council President and mayoral candidate Max Tracy, voted in favor, Democrats opposed it and the Independent Ali Dieng, also running for mayor, side with the Progressives.

Councilors also heard a presentation on the latest phase of a planned District Energy plan. Before the regular session councilors held a work session to review details of a settlement agreement with the developers of CityPlace, a delayed project in the center of the downtown.


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