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Burlington Police Staffing Levels Reviewed By Police Commissioners

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

The Burlington, Vermont Police Commission met at City Hall on Tuesday evening. Among the topics discussed was lower staffing levels and the resulting demoralization within the police department.

The commission has joined the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement or NACOLE which provided training in May and June on oversight and review practices. Commission member Stephanie Seguino noted that such training can be extended to the police department. 

“One of the things that we learned in the NACOLE training is that NACOLE actually recommends training of the police department about civilian oversight," Seguino said. "I think there’s a sense that civilian oversight can really benefit the police department and community trust. And so this would be perhaps useful for BPD (Burlington Police Department) to engage in with NACOLE.”

Burlington Police Department Deputy Chief of Administration Matthew Sullivan was amenable to the idea.  During his report he updated commissioners on staffing noting that last year the department had 92 officers. This year, following cuts mandated by the city council, staffing is at 75 officers. At least 10 are planning to leave within a year and 31 are actively seeking employment elsewhere. Seguino asked how long it would take to replace officers if the department could hire. 

“We have a functional assessment of BPD being done by consulting form CNA who’s going to make a recommendation with regard to staffing levels in September," Seguino said. "So with that can you give me a sense of what you would need for a timeline?”

“I feel like we have enough time at this point certainly to be able to put a few candidates in the February 2022 academy," Sullivan responded. "I would just keep in mind that we would not have those officers out on the street until the fall of 2022.”

Burlington Police Officers Association union Vice President Joseph Corrow cited comments by members from a survey on why they were still working for the department. Most were negative and many who are staying said they are holding out for their pension. The sentiments he read reflected a universal feeling that city leaders and commission members do not understand and denigrate police officers. Corrow said the department is deteriorating rapidly. 

“There was a time when we were the pinnacle of law enforcement in the state," Corrow said. "People wanted to come here. People do not feel that way anymore. And I know September is when CNA is finishing its assessment. I can tell you right now if that’s what the city council and everybody’s waiting on to make to their decision if we need to increase the cap or not you will be too late by that time. And as you know if that number is not what people expect at the department you’ll probably lose more people.”

During public comments Church Street Marketplace Commission chair Jeff Nick told the police commission that downtown merchants and employees are very concerned about public safety in the center city. 

“So much so that our staff conducted a survey amongst our members and the merchants and their employees," Nick said. "Forty-two percent felt unsafe at night. Only six percent felt safe. Fifty-one percent was a victim of a crime in the past twelve months. I’m shocked that there isn’t a greater sense of urgency amongst all the city leaders. But something has to be done.”

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