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Burlington City Council postpones action on mayor’s public safety continuity plan

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 1:21 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2021 at 5:37 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council has postponed a vote on Mayor Miro Weinberger’s public safety continuity plan that seeks to address the shrinking police force.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, councilors agreed to hold off on taking action on the proposal until February 8. Councilors say they want more time to look over it.

Weinberger, D-Burlington, released the plan hours ahead of Monday’s City Council meeting. In a memo to the council, he urged councilors to approve his plan, saying it would “create a path for providing the services we need and the Burlington public expects.”

This comes after the council voted in June to cut the police force by 30% from 105 to 74. Weinberger called the move “problematic” and says it was done “without a plan in place for how the City would respond to the full range of calls with 30 percent fewer officers.”

“My perspective is that this is a fundamental responsibility of city government. We need to take action to ensure that we can continue to provide the services that Burlingtonians expect, while we continue to do the due diligence, the analysis work, the assessment, to see if there are different ways we can do things in the future. We need a plan now. We need the resources today to do the work the Burlingtonians expect,” said Weinberger.

Weinberger’s proposal is getting support from 20 former Burlington elected officials, including former Mayor Peter Clavelle. Right before the council meeting, the group sent a letter to the current council voicing their approval of the public safety continuity plan, as well as their opposition to the council’s vote to reduce the police force.

“The action that you took last June, in my view, was irresponsible. To pick a number—74—with so little study, practically no study or evaluation, really frankly endangered public safety,” said former City Council President Kurt Wright, a Republican.

Jane Knodell, a Progressive who also formerly led the City Council, also chimed in. “Abandoning reliable 24-hour service does not meet basic public safety standards nor does it advance responsible conversation about reform,” Knodell said.

Weinberger says the council’s decision to cut the police force by 30% created a public safety crisis. He wants three things done: raise the cap on sworn officers from 74 to 84, add four community service officers and add a community service liaison position that would provide support for people who have come into contact with police and are suffering from opioid use disorder.

Weinberger says the city currently has only 41 officers available for patrol. He says when that number falls into the high 30s, the police will have to curtail services such as reassigning the domestic violence prevention officer.

When asked if he thinks the council will vote in favor of this plan, Weinberger said that’s uncertain. He says to his disappointment, many councilors remain unwilling to act.

Several members of the public called into the meeting and continued to call for the Burlington Police Department to be defunded. Some also accused the mayor of using this proposal as a scare tactic for the public to support it.

COUNCIL REJECTS BALLOT PROPOSAL ON POLICE OFFICERS

The Burlington City Council overwhelmingly rejected one councilor’s proposal to put a question on the March ballot about the number of police officers in the Queen City.

Mayoral candidate and city councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, was pushing to let voters decide if the city should “maintain a minimum of 84 sworn police officers assuring adequate staffing levels to sustain 24-hour police patrols in the City?”

On Monday, councilors voted 11-1 to turn it down. Dieng was the only councilor in favor of it.

Dieng said he proposed it in response to police department officials reporting that they may have to cut night patrols if the number of officers falls below 76.

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