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ACLU accuses Burlington leaders of misleading residents about crime

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington officials are being accused of “inflammatory rhetoric” in the ongoing debate over police staffing issues.

The mayor and police chief say cuts to the police department are harming public safety but the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont says recent press releases about gunfire incidents are misleading in the face of stats that show crime is trending down in Burlington.

The ACLU of Vermont has sent a letter to Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office criticizing the mayor and the Burlington Police Department for misinformation regarding public safety and policing data in the city.

“What we’re concerned about is the false narrative that has been propagated by some city officials and we wanted to correct the record,” said Jay Diaz, the general counsel for the ACLU of Vermont.

Diaz is referring to the way the city has publicized recent gunfire incidents.

“We’ve seen doubling the number of press releases about crime. We’ve seen serious inflammatory rhetoric used at City Council meetings and in the media to create this sense of urgency of crisis when there is no real crisis around public safety when you look at the data,” Diaz said.

Mayor Weinberger agrees that overall, police data looks good, with crime dropping significantly in each of the last five years and on track for another drop this year.

Weinberger refused to go on camera, but in a statement, he says Diaz is dismissing the significance of the recent dramatic increase in gunfire incidents and failing to understand the relationship between police investment and violent crime: “We welcome Mr. Diaz’s endorsement of the many progressive police reforms and innovative public safety investments that have driven the dramatic decrease in overall police incidents across the City since 2015.

However, his dismissal of the significance of the recent dramatic increase in gunfire incidents, and failure to understand that there is a direct relationship between police investment and violent crime is badly out of touch with the major challenges facing the Police Department today. Mr. Diaz’s flawed analysis should not carry the day as the City confronts critical decisions about police recruitment, retention, and the authorized number of officers in the weeks ahead.”

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad says portraying this information to the public is vital.

“There is a very big difference between citing facts and fearmongering. I do not want a community that is fearful. I want a community that’s strong, I want a community that’s well-informed, I want a community that’s participatory in its own safety,” Murad said.

Diaz says since the rate of incidents in the city is down, that doesn’t mean the Burlington Police Department needs to bring more officers on board, something both Weinberger and Murad have disagreed with for some time.

The City Council is scheduled to meet on Monday when a report on policing in the city is expected to be the focal point.

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