Will Burlington City Council decide to add police officers to city force?

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - City councilors are responding after the Burlington Police Commission recommended adding officers to the force’s dwindling ranks.

The police commission listened to complaints Monday night from residents and business owners concerned after an increase in shootings in the city. There have been nine so far this year, on pace to beat last year’s record of 12.

Now, it’s up to the City Council to decide whether to act on the commission’s unanimous recommendation to add eight more officers as soon as possible for a total of 82.

Stephanie Seguino is one of those police commissioners who unanimously voted to urge the City Council to grow the cap from 74 officers up to 82, even if it’s temporary.

The vote comes after an uptick of shootings in the city, including two just this past weekend.

The City Council voted last year to slash the number of Burlington officers by 30% in 2020, leaving fewer officers available to respond to incidents.

“This is not the first opportunity that both the commission and the council have had the opportunity to raise the cap, they have failed to do so. Right now, we need a dramatic increase to outpace our losses. Additionally, we need to focus on retention,” said Joseph Congdon of the Burlington Police Officers’ Association.

But some city councilors say not so fast. They are waiting on an independent report scheduled to come out in September that will define the number of officers the city should be employing.

Councilor Ali Dieng voted against the 30% cut. Now, he wants the council to wait on any decisions on the officer cap until the results of the report come in. He believes the City Council and Mayor Miro Weinberger’s administration should own up to mistakes made by reducing the force.

“We should not solve a problem with the same level of thinking we used to create it. We have a process, it will be ready by next month and I think from there we can talk about raising the cap and by how much,” said Dieng, I-Burlington City Council.

Progressive Council President Max Tracy is a strong proponent of police transformation and supported cutting the number of officers from 105 to 74. He says he does not believe the reduction has led to more gunfire. He wants the police department to hire community service liaisons. But even if they do, those liaisons would not be able to respond to violent crimes like shootings.

“I’m hesitant to act prior to getting that full analysis because I don’t want to do something and immediately shift based on what that report says. I am curious as to what the findings will be and what the recommendations will be for Burlington moving forward,” Tracy said.

While other councilors want to wait until the report is released, Democratic Councilor Joan Shannon, who voted against the 30% cut, is preparing a resolution to follow the police commission’s suggestions of raising the officer cap for now. She says it’s imperative to get started now because once the report comes out nothing will be able to change on a dime. It can take a year to get officers trained, and right now she says it’s no surprise about the rise in serious crime.

“It’s not even if you want to add, if you want to sustain where we are or even if you want to sustain a lesser number you have to hire people or you have to retain officers and our reports are that officers are leaving rapidly and we have nobody in the pipeline,” Shannon said.

City police statistics show that while we are on pace for a record number of shootings this year, violent crime overall is closer to average.

The next City Council meeting is on Aug. 9.

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