Burlington Police share concerns as bars prepare for end of curfew

Just over 15,000 Vermonters need to get a COVID vaccine to reach Governor Phil Scott’s goal of 80 percent. Then, bars will be able to open.
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 5:21 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Just over 15,000 Vermonters need to get a COVID vaccine to reach Governor Phil Scott’s goal of lifting all COVID restrictions. When that happens, bars will be able to reopen at full capacity and stay open until 2 a.m. But the return to late-night activity comes as the Burlington Police continue to deal with reduced staffing brought about by last year’s reforms.

“We are excited to open, and I think everyone is ready to get back out there and see their friends and get out drinking in the bars,” said Sam Tolstoi, the owner of Manhattan Pizza on Main Street.

He is among bar owners anxiously awaiting the state to lift pandemic restrictions that have been in place for more than a year. At Manhattan’s, Tolstoi plans to ease into the new guidance. “We are little nervous about how that’s going to look. We are just going to play it really tight and be as safe as possible,” he said.

People on Church Street share the anticipation, but some also feel a little hesitation. “I’m excited. I think it’ll be great I think it brings back the normal summertime feel, so I’m excited about it,” said Kijuan Fryar.

“I think that I feel fairly safe being out here just because of how open it is and how many people are usually down here,” said Jackson Kelleher of Essex.

“I personally wouldn’t go out right away. Maybe after a few weeks to see how things are going for other people during that time period,” said Vanessa Guzman of Burlington.

But if bars see a sea of people once things get back to normal, it could be challenging for a police department with a shrinking headcount to keep up. Burlington Police say the most use-of-force incidents and assaults happen when bars close around 2 a.m. “An engagement with one brings a crowd. We experienced that to a certain degree in 2019. We are anticipating that that is going to be more pronounced in 2021, owing to overall attitudes about policing and overall willingness to resist or question police efforts,” said Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad.

Tolstoi says he hopes to see police out patrolling near his business on those busy bar nights. “Obviously, it’s a weird time with the BLM movement and the controversy around police. We support having police on this corner and having us safe. There has been a lot of issues on this corner over the years and the more help we can get down here the better, in our opinion,” he said.

We are still waiting on a response from the mayor’s office and city councilors about how they’re going to ensure public safety downtown this summer, especially with the concerns the police department has.

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