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City Council to consider Burlington Police officer cap

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After months of heated debate over the appropriate size of the Burlington Police force, accompanied by a spike in violent crimes downtown, the City Council Monday will once again consider a proposal to raise the officer cap.

The number of how many officers should serve in the Burlington Police Department has been a hot-button issue since Progressives on the council pushed to defund the force last year.

Right now there are eight officers working at the Burlington Airport. That number is non-negotiable and part of the current bargaining contract. The current cap created by the council calls for 66 officers. Because many have left, that number has actually fallen to 57. A new report by consultant group CNA called for 77 to 80 officers, which is greater than what the council originally approved.

“The Burlington Police Department can’t function as it is now, and the reason why it’s important for them to go to 80 instead of 77 is because the victim advocacy is what would be cut to get to 77, and the citizens of Burlington are strongly supportive of victim services,” said City Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South, the co-sponsor of a resolution to raise the officer cap to 80.

Shannon says the 77 number would involve cutting important roles in the city such as the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations and the domestic violence officer.

Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, a co-sponsor on that resolution, says 80 officers would allow for some employees to take family leave or be deployed by the Vermont National Guard, while still keeping the city safe. He says it would also help morale, which the CNA report found has suffered since the council cut the budget by 30% last year.

“This is all about compromise. It should not be about politics and whoever wants to come with 77, I think you need to know how we hold you now accountable. People are fed up and it is time for us to turn the page, this sad chapter of the history of Burlington, to turn it and to go forward,” Dieng said.

But Progressives on the council, including Councilor Jack Hanson, P-East, disagree. He says it’s clear from the CNA report that important transitions are being made in policing in Burlington and that they should raise the count to fall in line with the lowest number recommended. “I believe we should go with that 77 number, the lower end of that range, because I want us to stay on track with building out these alternatives and moving to different systems of public safety. So, I don’t want to go above what the report is telling us is adequate,” Hanson said.

Councilor Hanson says they will explore reducing the number of airport officers as part of the next collective bargaining agreement.

Also on the agenda Monday is a resolution to expand the Burlington Police Commission’s oversight of the department, which is expected to have wider support.

BPD STAFFING HINGES ON CNA REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS

Earlier this month, city leaders and members of the Burlington Police Department received the final assessment on policing in the Queen City.

The independent CNA report was commissioned by the city back in March to give clarity on more than just staffing levels, but also on what overall the department is doing well and where it needs to improve. Our Cam Smith has been digging through some of the report’s 150 recommendations.

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