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Burlington Police Commission Asks City Council To Temporarily Raise Cap On Police Department

Burlington Police car
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington Police car

The Burlington, Vermont Police Commission is asking the City Council to temporarily reverse its mandate that the city police department reduce the number of officers.
In June 2020, the Burlington City Council passed on a 9-3 vote a Racial Justice Resolution that included a mandate that the city’s police department decrease “the maximum total number of uniformed police officers by 30% from 105 to 74.” At the time, Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger said councilors were putting constituents at risk. In May 2021, the Police Department issued a Priority Response Plan outlining types of incidents, scheduling and plans for minimal staffing.

Some constituents say crime is rising as staffing at the police department diminishes and it’s particularly visible in the center city business district.  Concerns peaked after a late night Sunday shootout at a gas station in the downtown.
Church Street Marketplace Commission Chair Jeff Nick warned commissioners at Monday’s meeting not to wait for pending studies on police staffing to be released.  “We are very concerned about the safety in our community and especially on Church Street in downtown. And so whatever you can do to express to the City Council the urgency in this matter to get this thing under control. I know there’s some ongoing studies about how to do policing in a different manner. I get that. It makes sense to do those studies. But we cannot wait for those studies to be completed. We need to take action now.”

Businessman Yves Bradley once served on the police commission.  “I have never felt less safe in this city than I do now.  When I was a commissioner we had 90 in the police department and we did studies that showed compared to other municipalities of our size that we should be at 105 to really police the city properly. I am appalled by the behavior I see in our city. It will take from the point of hire a minimum of a year for someone to go out and be on patrol and be able to serve this community. So we’re in trouble.”

Ward 7 resident Paul Decelles was a Republican member of the Burlington City Council about a decade ago.  “I’d love to say that this is the safest place to live in the state. But it’s not. Hold your meetings in the park. Hold your meetings on Church Street at 10:00 at night. Tell me you feel safe. You won’t. Whatever the charter allows you all to do please do it. Please recommend to the city council. Maybe they’ll listen eventually. Something’s got to give. We’re on borrowed time. Somebody’s going to die."

Following a discussion on the role of Community Service Liaisons in the police department, a resolution was put forward urging the city council to raise the cap temporarily to 82 officers pending recommendations in staffing studies and immediately hire two Community Service Liaisons.
Commissioner Melo Grant expressed reluctant support.  “I appreciate people not feeling safe. I definitely have experienced that myself. And I do see certain aggressive behavior that is very concerning. Now having said that I don’t always agree that the best way to deal with it is to put more police officers in the mix. I believe we need to have a holistic approach. In addition to supporting the police department we need to be supporting the funding of social services.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

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