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Burlington, Vermont’s mayor forms advisory panel on community safety

Burlington, Vermont sign
Pat Bradley
Burlington, Vermont sign

Burlington, Vermont’s new mayor has convened a group of advisors to provide recommendations on how the city can improve and implement community safety policies.

The panel of 23 individuals will provide input on Burlington’s current public safety policies and then provide short- and long-term policy recommendations for community safety reforms.

Progressive Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak says she tried to be comprehensive and strategic in choosing panel members.

“I really define community safety in a very broad way because there’s so many different components ranging from folks who are unhoused to those struggling with substance use disorder to folks who have really been unfortunately victims of crimes. And I wanted to make sure we had a comprehensive team of thinkers to help advise me in this work,” said Mulvaney-Stanak. “And then of course I also want to make sure we have folks who formally and professionally have direct experience. And so I have included folks from our street outreach team. I’ve included both current and former city councilors who have experience attempting to do policy in these areas. So I think this is a pretty comprehensive group.”

Missing from the advisory panel is the Burlington Police Department. Mayor Mulvaney-Stanak points out that there is also no one from the Fire Department nor any city employee on the panel.

“The goal is to have this group meet for three meetings and then meet with those leaders of all the departments that attack community safety,” the Mayor explained. “And that includes not only the Chief of Police and Chief of Fire, but some of their fellow leaders within those departments as well as the leader of our program which oversees our Community Safety Liaisons, the CSL’s, which do social service support out of the police department. That’s when those folks will be brought in. I wanted to purposely build trust and relationships with folks who are not traditionally at the table and then bring in city leaders within city government to hear what their recommendations and to build relationships from there.”

Former Burlington City Councilor Ali Dieng says he agreed to be a member of the advisory panel because of the mayor’s pragmatic way of trying to solve the city’s public safety issues.

“And also the way in which she is approaching the issue. One, by calling it community safety instead of public safety. You know I think that concept and that level of thinking is just amazing,” Dieng said. “And also I agreed because (Mayor) Emma (Mulvaney-Stanak) run on wanting to solve this crisis for the city of Burlington and also the way in which she’s approaching the issue by collectively bringing people from different backgrounds. So many different people with so many different skills and mindsets and approaches on solving problems.”

Vermont Progressive Party Executive Director Josh Wronski says the creation of the advisory panel reflects a core tenant of the mayor’s campaign and is keen to see what the group will recommend.

“It’s a really great group of people with a ton of knowledge on these issues and combined probably hundreds of years of experience in policing and restorative justice and harm reduction in our city,” said Wronski. “So I’m sure they’re going to come up with solutions that we’re not even thinking about yet and Burlington could really be a model for how we address these kinds of problems in an holistic way that doesn’t just punish people or criminalize people but really seeks to address real solutions and get people the help that they need while also ensuring that everyone can feel safe in the community.”

Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine is pleased that there are members of the business community included on the advisory panel.

“We definitely need new approaches,” Devine said. “I’m willing to try anything at this point because we have a lot of people who are suffering in our downtown with addiction or mental illness and what we’ve been doing to date, I would say, hasn’t been working. You know I’ll be keeping a close eye on the work of this group and hopefully will come up with some solutions that can address some of the issues that we have in Burlington at least in the long-term. Short-term as well would be a bonus.”

The mayor’s community safety advisory panel also includes two Burlington High School students.

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