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Burlington police staffing guidance expected in pending report

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 6:52 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Any decision on the appropriate size of Burlington’s police force will likely have to wait until an independent report comes out toward the end of this month.

In a split vote Monday, the Burlington City Council rejected the Police Commission’s recommendation to increase the number of police officers to address staffing issues caused by budget cuts last year. The debate has coincided with a string of late-night shootings and other violence that has highlighted a deep divide on the council over police reform measures.

The outside consultants were asked to provide an accurate and functional assessment of the Burlington Police Department. But for Burlington residents and businesses frustrated by what police have called “gun battles” downtown on back-to-back weekends, any report can’t come soon enough

“Police are the city’s public safety and if the city decides to reduce public safety, I may not feel as safe,” said David Mathis, a New Yorker who has been visiting Burlington for 30 years. He says he’s always felt the city is a great place, but he disagrees with the council’s decision to downsize the police force last year by 30%.

Ben Luna, an attorney who has lived in Burlington for years, says it’s nerve-wracking to see what’s going on at times. He says city officials need to have better communication to fix the issues. “It can’t just be knee-jerk Progressive, Democratic, Republican... People need to set that partisan stuff aside and have real conversations and talk to each other about real solutions, not have knee-jerk reactions to political waves coming across the country,” he said.

The vote Monday to raise the officer cap from 74 to 82 failed after Progressives on the council said they want to wait for the consultant’s report. Democrats, including Mayor Miro Weinberger, say they support the move. “Chief Murad and I will continue our efforts to work around the council to stabilize, strengthen, and transform the Burlington Police Department and keep the community safe, I’ll tell you Katharine, this issue is not over police retention, and raising the cap will be back in front of the council again very soon,” Weinberger said. He says the report will better inform city officials on the number of officers they believe is appropriate. The council did vote to hire two more unarmed community service liaisons.

Others we spoke to on Church Street said they feel safe, at least during the day. “I wouldn’t come in the middle of the night, and I think it’s well patrolled,” said Gillian Randall of South Burlington.

“I’ve not been that concerned. We moved up here from the Washington D.C. area, which obviously had a much higher rate of crime than what I consider downtown Burlington had. But the fact remains, Burlington is a city -- albeit small -- and is going to have the same city-type problems,” said Chris Remuzzi.

While the report will be received by the end of this month, it’s first going to Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Office. It should be released to the public and to the council by the end of September.

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