The Burlington, Vermont City Council met this week and delayed action on one item regarding police department restructuring and voted down another related item.
Last June the Burlington City Council passed a resolution requiring the city police department reduce staffing levels 30% through attrition and set a maximum staffing level of 74 uniformed officers. The acting police chief and the union representing police officers have been telling the community that when the staff reaches 76 sworn officers the department will be unable to cover the midnight shift. They warn that between 3 and 7:30 in the morning they will only be able to respond to the most violent calls.
A Public Safety Continuity Plan proposed by Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger was on the council’s agenda this week. The mayor called it his second attempt to resolve a crisis created by the council. During the public comment session support for the plan was mixed. Former Progressive councilor Jane Knodell read a letter from 20 former councilors and mayor urging the council to pass the measure. “We represent every political affiliation. We implore the city council to adopt the proposed Public Safety Continuity Plan. Abandoning reliable 24 hour service does not meet basic public safety standards nor does it advance a responsible conversation about reform.”
Activists including Ward 4 resident Zoe Keninger oppose the mayor’s plan. “The Public Safety Continuity Plan falls flat because these solutions are still located within the police department. They’re still under the control of the police. This plan will not keep the BIPOC of our community or the most vulnerable members of our community safe. It just ensures the continuation of police power. I call on the city council to develop a new vision of public safety focused on restorative justice and mutual aid.”
South District Democrat Joan Shannon offered a motion to postpone consideration of the plan, saying she was offering it in deference to fellow councilors struggling with a decision. “Reaching a more satisfactory conclusion for the citizens of Burlington is worth waiting for and I don’t think that we have a satisfactory conclusion to deliver to the citizens of Burlington tonight.”
Mayor Weinberger was stunned that some members of the council weren’t ready to take action. “It is shocking to me frankly that this council is not racing to take action to approve this plan that has been developed and that clearly moves us in a direction of police transformation. This is a very reasonable proposal that averts crisis and real risk to our public safety system.”
The proposal to postpone consideration for two weeks passed on a 10-2 vote.
Also on the agenda was a proposal by Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng, also a mayoral candidate, to place an advisory question on the March 2nd Town Meeting Day ballot asking voters if the city should maintain a minimum of 84 sworn officers, changing from the current 74. “We haven’t done any study and a result of our decision is exactly the division that is happening currently in this community.”
Shannon called the proposal unnecessary. “If we have to go to the ballot every time we have to make a decision we’re not needed here. And when we’re being asked now to bring the number of sworn officers back to 84 I don’t understand why this has to go on the ballot but when we reduced it that didn’t have to go on the ballot.”
Councilors rejected placing the advisory question on the ballot on an 11-1 vote.