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Burlington businesses participate in de-escalation training

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 11:10 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Burlington business owners are taking safety into their own hands by participating in de-escalation training.

Ongoing conversations about safety in Burlington’s downtown over the past few months prompted business owners to take action. Colin Hilliard, advocacy director at the Burlington Business Association, said Wednesday’s de-escalation training is something they asked for.

“The pandemic has really exposed -- a lot of folks are struggling right now -- so it’s up to us as a community to come together and try to do the best we can,” Hilliard said.

These training sessions are being done in partnership with clinicians at the Howard Center. They’re reviewing things like risk factors, body language and physical boundaries business owners should be aware of to prevent situations from escalating.

“This is really what the training dives into, what are some things you can do yourself? And maybe realizing in situations someone isn’t well and understanding the resources available,” Hilliard continued.

John George-Wheeler, co-owner of the Ski Rack, attended Wednesday’s training along with four of his employees. He says he hopes this training will have an impact beyond the sales floor.

“We are all figuring it out together and simultaneously businesses are responsible for our businesses, but also our own neighbors,” George-Wheeler said.

However, some people out enjoying Church Street say business owners might be getting in over their heads.

“I think it’s not a bad thing, I guess, to have some knowledge, but to be primarily responsible for those escalation issues is asking a lot,” said Megan Baille, a visitor from Florida.

“Business owners should spend their time tending to their businesses and tending to their customers. Police should be creating a safe environment on the marketplace,” said Jean-Paul Gagnon, who lives in Essex Junction.

George-Wheeler said creating a better downtown environment is a process and won’t happen overnight.

“It’s really important for us to, again, take it one step at a time, learn from each other, learn what’s working, improve what’s not, and continue forward. That’s the only way we can go,” he said.

We reached out to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office for a comment. A spokesperson responded with last week’s statement on the ambassador program but did not touch on the de-escalation training.

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