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Burlington City Councilors Consider Resolution To Adjust Police Officer Cap

Burlington City Hall in early evening (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall in early evening (file)

The Burlington, Vermont City Council had an extensive list of items on its agenda this week including revisiting the cap the panel set on the number of police officers.

In June 2020, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution that included a mandate that the city’s police department decrease the maximum number of uniformed police officers to 74 FROM 105.

Some constituents and business owners, especially in the downtown area, say crime is rising as staffing at the police department diminishes. Earlier this month the Police Commission unanimously passed a resolution asking the city council to temporarily raise the cap pending the results of staffing studies by consultants. It also recommended the city immediately hire two Community Service Liaisons.

At Monday’s City Council meeting South District Democrat Joan Shannon offered a resolution to fulfill the commission request. “The desire here is really to stop the downward spiral."

During earlier public comments the majority of residents who commented on the resolution pleaded with the council to pass the measure. “I’m Jeff Nick, chair of the Church Street Marketplace Commission. We’re faced with a severely depleted police force. We have gun shots on almost a weekly basis it seems like. Knife fights in City Hall Park and elsewhere. Gang members are showing up in town. You’ve got to go with your Police Commission’s recommendation to increase the police force.”

Council President Max Tracy: “Okay our next speaker will be William Keeton.”

Keeton: “I believe this so called public safety crisis has been mostly fabricated by our police chief and the president of the police union.”

Council President Max Tracy: “Our next speaker is Kurt Wright.”

Wright: “There is great fear in the community. Let’s correct the mistake that you made last year.”

Council President Max Tracy: “Our next speaker is Jada Bearden.”

Bearden: “It literally boggles my mind that y’all can sit here and ask for more, an increase in police presence and a police like state. Are you kidding me? Do you know the origin of these people? They’re slave catchers.”

“I’m Eric Dion. I know I’ve got to be respectful so I won’t call you guys idiots but I’ll say the city council of 2020 were fricking idiots. I see a spike in crime. People are scared.”

An internal survey conducted by the police officer’s union found that 52 percent of the department’s officers and supervisors are actively seeking new employment.

The council was split on the idea of upping the cap. Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter said the resolution is a temporary effort to stabilize the police department. “The Police Commission, that body that we ask for advice, is saying for now we need to stabilize where we’re at so we can do all the other things that we need to do.”

East District Progressive Jack Hanson said the action to cap the police force was one of the proudest actions he has taken to protect the marginalized and move to a new model of public safety. “I just think it’s really important just not tying the shootings and the violence to this as if we take action tonight that will go away, if we don’t that will continue. I think that’s really dangerous rhetoric.”

Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng called out the protesters who last year clamored for the downsizing of the police department. “Where are the one thousand people that were calling every single day to ask you to defund the police? We don’t hear them. They’re all gone. What we have done we just definitely failed.”

Dieng called for postponement of action on the resolution until September. The motion was defeated. The original resolution was split and councilors passed a clause calling for the immediate hiring of two Community Service Liaisons. The motion to temporarily raise the cap on police officers failed on a tie vote.