After members and supporters of a racial justice group spent three days filibustering, the Burlington city council has begun its review of the proposed 2021 city budget.
Nearly a thousand Vermont Racial Justice Alliance supporters jammed public forum access to the online Burlington City Council proceedings last week to repeat demands that councilors cut the Burlington Police Department budget by 30 percent, remove all resource officers from schools, fire three police officers and reallocate funds to support social service and justice programs.
Mayor Miro Weinberger’s proposed 2021 budget calls for a 6 percent, or $1.1 million, cut to the police department. Council president Max Tracy held a budget work session for councilors to consider the proposal and forum comments. “I wanted to give folks a chance to really dig into some of the issues. And I know that lots of councilors have also been asking questions off-line around a variety of different issues and we have gotten quite a few responses back to the full council, which is helpful, but I think it’d be important to also discuss some of those answers and get those out in public session as well making sure that councilors have those and that the public is clear about their answers.”
The council spent the session reviewing the proposed police budget and quizzing Acting Chief John Murad. A key concern of Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul is the use of SRO’s or school resource officers. “The SRO’s do any of them have degrees in either sociology, social work, master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees in social work? You know there is certainly a debate in this community about the efficacy of having police officers in schools and if those are officers who have degrees in, you know, in something that relates to social work perhaps there are other ways in which they could be reassigned if they were not in schools.”
North District Democrat Franklin Paulino said he’s heard from many parents about the need for school resource officers. “They find it beneficial in large part because it prevents crime, prevents further incidents. So my point is we shouldn’t just make cuts because we want to make cuts. We should look at what cuts we can make that’ll achieve the goal we’re trying to achieve which is to look at how we can reinvest in the community in a different way.”
The mayor’s current proposed cut to the police department would reallocate $300,000 to the city’s new racial equity office and the remaining $800,000 to help balance the budget. Central District Progressive Perri Freeman says all the money should be re-allocated to human service agencies. “I’m disappointed. If we’re cutting 6-percent that money needs to be reallocated directly to communities and it does frustrate me to see that going into balancing the budget.”
In a statement released on Facebook, Burlington Firefighters Association President Kyle Blake wrote that his members often rely on the city’s police officers to secure a scene and it would be “…a disservice ...to not raise a voice of concern when it comes to reducing the number of police officers…”
City councilors are expected to vote on the budget on Monday, prior to the new fiscal year on July 1st.