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Burlington businesses demand answers to public safety concerns

Published: Oct. 16, 2021 at 8:52 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A letter from 16 local businesses, from Church and Pine Streets to the waterfront, is calling on city officials to launch new safety protocols.

“Harassment, assault, and some of the challenges that people who work late and early in the morning have seen in the downtown area,” said Matt Canning of Hotel Vermont.

After months of debate over staffing at the Burlington Police Department, the number of officers has fallen below the cap set by the City Council last summer. Canning says it’s created a sense of uncertainty for workers. “It feels like in this time of transition there’s a void,” he said. “We’re feeling that void in public safety right now. So, just want to implore our city leaders to not let this time of transition become collateral damage and understand the importance of what’s happening.”

“This has hit a tipping point for our employers, our employees,” said Kelly Devine of the Burlington Business Association. “This is what you saw come out in that letter.”

Devine introduced an employee safety escort service in July. The city halted the program recently when funding ran out. Now, the association is seeking private donations to cover the cost. “Until we figure all of this out as a community, until we have a better sense that there is a public safety system that is working, we need to do something as a private business community to take care of downtown,” Devine explains.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says the city is working with the association to use private security at key times during the day on top of other measures. “Issuing trespassing ordinances in City Hall Park and other parts of the downtown for people who repeatedly refuse to accept the rules and the laws that exist in our downtown that make it safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Mayor Weinberger said.

Weinberger says the main issue lies in the number of sworn officers at BPD, something city councilors are expected to discuss during Monday’s meeting.

The list of businesses that signed onto the letter include: Honey Road, Farmhouse Tap & Grill, El Cortijo, August First, Skinny Pancake, Hen of the Wood, Hotel Vermont, Juniper, Pizzeria Verita, Trattoria Delia, Penny Cluse Cafe, Great Northern, Westport Hospitality, Monarch & the Milkweed, American Flatbread, and Zero Gravity.

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