Police release photos of Burlington shooting suspect; City Council faces scrutiny over cop cuts

Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 3:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 3:27 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Six days after a Burlington shooting, police still have made no arrests, but they have released photos of a suspect. The shooting on the first weekend after COVID bar curfews were lifted -- and at a time when staffing cuts mean fewer cops on the streets -- has some downtown businesses concerned about the upcoming summer.

Police Thursday released a photo of the man they believe fired a gun Saturday morning near City Hall after the bars closed in downtown Burlington. Police say there were also a number of unrelated fights in the vicinity of Church and Main streets that night. “One of them was the altercation video which we released, and the suspect who ultimately produced and discharged a firearm,” said Acting Burlington Police Chief John Murad.

Police say the two men involved in the fight did not know each other. They exchanged words, started fighting, and a shot was fired. The bullet missed its target but ricocheted and hit a bystander, causing only a bruise.

Police say they did not learn of the incident until 15 to 20 minutes after the shot was fired because there were no officers downtown at the time. BPD traditionally has several officers outside the bars at closing time, but Murad says that’s not the case since staffing cuts ordered by the City Council. “A few of the individuals with whom detectives have spoken have said the reason we didn’t call police is because normally we see you guys all over the place down here at bar closing,” he said.

“It was disappointing. That’s the last thing you want as you start to get the city and the street going again,” said Mark Bouchett with Homeport, a nearby store. He says that while his business is not open late like the bars, with this being the sixth shooting of 2021 -- and after police say the area has averaged about two per year in recent years -- he’s concerned about how it could impact Burlington’s image. “It adds or subtracts to the general feeling of safety that folks have as they come downtown.”

And he’s not alone. “Folks are concerned about public safety downtown,” said Collin Hilliard with the Burlington Business Association. He says for the downtown bars, safety is a priority. “Our bars do a great job having safe environment inside the bars for the most part. The last thing they want to worry about is outside the bars.”

For now, Chief Murad says staffing on weekend nights will stay the same. He says changing schedules is not as simple as moving chess pieces. “We can not merely rob one portion of the day to serve another portion of the day,” he said.

Progressives on the Burlington City Council led last year’s effort to “defund” the police by 30% in response to racial justice protests and excessive force allegations. None of the Progressives on the council responded to a request for comments Thursday.

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