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Facing defunding mandate, Burlington Police say they must eliminate midnight shift

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 6:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2020 at 7:45 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington Police say budget cuts will make it impossible to properly cover the city as early as next month. The cash crunch stems from a June city council resolution that required BPD to cut its personnel by 30 percent.

There are currently 81 officers on the force. Officials say by January, two more officers will be gone through attrition, bringing the headcount to 79. The department needs to get down to 74 officers to meet the June resolution’s requirements.

The resolution’s goal was to take more armed officers off city streets, but now some community members they’re worried the city could face serious repercussions. “I feel a lot more comfortable with officers on duty patrolling,” said Christopher Ruel of Burlington.

“If that comfort is taken away, I can’t imagine what people would feel,” added Lori Alexander. Both say they know they would feel unsettled and insecure if the police department continues to lose officers.

“I think we need as much police as we can afford right now,” Ruel said.

When the department’s headcount falls to about 76, officials say it will eliminate midnight patrols, because many of those employees can’t patrol at all. In other words, BPD would end in-person responses between 3 a.m. to 7:30 a.m, when call volume is lowest. So, for those needing help, it will take a lot longer for an officer to get to the scene.

That’s unless the city implements another solution. “We are going to have to create new staff to address our calls,” said Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said Friday. He proposes hiring 12 unarmed community service officers and six unarmed community service liaisons.

Kyle Dodson, the city’s Director of Police Transformation, is skeptical of that idea, but says the community needs a midnight patrol. Dodson wants everyone to remember why this resolution passed in the first place. “There’s a sense that having a large number of police is related to the kind of racism and bias that we’ve seen around the country,” he said.

But adding unarmed personnel requires the city to make room in the budget. “He had mentioned the midnight shift could be on the chopping block, and yet we still passed this thinking we’re going to figure something out. So, that’s where we’re at right now, we’re at that intersection,” said City Councilor Jane Stromberg, P-Ward 8. She says the BPD presentation of the proposal -- focusing on the loss of the midnight shift -- is purposefully putting pressure on the city to make a rash decision and strategically invoking fear in the community. “It’s kind of threatening, honestly, and I don’t think that’s the way anything should be done in terms of city business.”

Stromberg says there’s no way she’d support restaffing police, but is open to ideas like the one proposed. City Councilors, like everyone else, saw the plan for the first time Friday. All parties involved say they want better communication between police and the council so they can form a solid solution together. There’s no word on when that meeting may happen.

The department is now asking the public for input on its proposal.

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