Weekend shooting incidents in Burlington raise new concerns over police staffing

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Two incidents of gunfire in downtown Burlington over the weekend rattled residents and many are demanding something be done now.

Community members and businesses are concerned and many are wondering how to fix this issue. According to city officials, it’s a complex problem of prevention.

“We’ve seen people pull weapons out and they’re not afraid to use them, so that sense anymore of that it’s not good for our community,” said Mark Bouchett, who owns Homeport in downtown Burlington.

Bouchett was responding to another incident of gunfire downtown Saturday where individuals had a shootout outside of the Mobil gas station on South Winooski Avenue and Bank Street. It was one of two gunfire incidents in the city this past weekend.

“Right now we are kind of hobbled because we have a significantly reduced police force but no solution on how we are going to meet the public safety needs. So, I’d love to see the city expedite that solution,” said Kelly Devine of the Burlington Business Association.

From 2012 to 2019, there was an average of two shootings in the entire city per year.

Last year, there were 12 gunfire incidents in Burlington.

This year, they are already at nine and it’s just the start of August.

We asked the mayor and the police chief what changes are being made now so that this doesn’t happen again next weekend and they had no concrete answers. Instead, they both pointed to staffing, which the City Council but by 30%.

Mayor Miro Weinberger says they’ve started to recruit new officers and continue to look into augmenting the police force with community service officers and even contracting with private security to help them out as well, but it’s only the sworn armed police officers who can respond to serious incidents such as gunfire.

And he’s concerned for workers who are scared to leave work late at night.

“We are a community that has long enjoyed high levels of excellent public safety and we are working hard to maintain that and committed to doing that,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington. “There are times when calls that in the past that will get a quicker response, people are having to wait for that but the serious responses because of the way that Chief Murad is deploying the department are getting quick responses and that is going to continue.”

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad says they are working to charge the people involved in the Mobile gas station shootout. They’ve identified two of them.

He also says the police department responds to these incidents, but the idea of prevention is a much bigger topic.

“Some of it has to do with outreach to groups we know are more likely to be involved in this kind of activity, some of it has to do with making certain both police presence and other kinds of public safety presence are robust in this city and other things have to do with a sense of making sure we are treating everyone fairly, so there’s a shared responsibility for public safety among all of us,” Murad said.

Weinberger says the city will be coming out soon with a more succinct plan to help augment the police force in the near future. The details of that plan, when it will be released and when it will go into effect are not clear.

A second shooting incident happened Sunday.

Burlington police say they received multiple calls about possible gunshots or fireworks early Sunday morning at the Andy A_Dog Williams Skate Park.

When officers arrived, they say they didn’t see any evidence of gunfire and there were no more callers.

Later that afternoon, a caller told police there were bullet holes near the 300 Lake Street apartments.

Multiple shell casings were found in the parking lot of the skate park.

Police say preliminary information indicates the Sunday shooting was related to the shooting incident early Saturday morning at South Winooski Avenue and Bank Street.

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