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Burlington mayoral candidates spar over role of police in 2nd debate

Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 6:30 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 7:03 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The four candidates vying to become mayor of Burlington each have very different visions for the city that was on display at their second debate Thursday.

The city faces a number of issues including the need for affordable housing, the long-stalled CityPlace project, and rebuilding following the pandemic, but public safety and police reform in the Queen City are dominating the conversation. “Change needs to happen today,” says City Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7.

Strong words came from the candidates on a range of issues but it was police reform that drew the strongest responses. Dieng says the city made a big mistake by reducing the police force without a plan. He says the mayor should have vetoed it. He claimed that since he didn’t, the Mayor may be in support of the reduction. “We should not be targeting the police or putting them under the microscope. This is about public safety and public safety should be managed by those who have the knowledge and expertise,” Dieng said.

Before the council took the action to reduce the police force last year, Mayor Miro Weinberger proposed another strategy that was shot down. He says he remains in support of continued reform that does not jeopardize public safety. “The suggestion by Councilor Dieng that I’m for defunding the police is patently incorrect. As everyone knows, I’ve been the voice standing against a council who has taken, I think, some very dangerous action,” Weinberger said.

City Council President Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, has widely supported the resolution to reduce staffing levels at BPD. He supports more non-police responses to calls for service to ensure the safety of Burlingtonians of color and the most vulnerable. “This call for transformation has always been and will always be about making people safer. As a community with limited resources, we must be efficient in how we use these resources to take care of everyone who lives here,” Tracy said.

Political newcomer Patrick White echoed Tracy’s call for an unarmed approach to public safety, but he says there are many situations where officers are walking into an unknown situation. “We can’t predict when a gun is necessary. So to act like we can just know when any situation will require an armed response -- we are kidding ourselves,” White said.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad has proposed hiring civilians to help the city’s response to non-emergency calls, something the mayor has expressed support for as well.

The candidates will meet virtually for at least one more debate before Town Meeting Day.

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