Burlington mayor, police present safety improvement steps
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A rash of shootings and other violent crimes have prompted growing concerns over safety in the Queen City over the past two years. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and city officials Thursday presented a plan that calls for allocating more police downtown, where officials say more than 50% of calls happen.
“Too often last summer, we experienced disruptive, intimidating, and even dangerous incidents in City Hall Park and in the marketplace,” Mayor Weinberger said.
The plan relies on four officers on a shift at the Burlington Police Department. One will patrol the city to the north and another to the south. Two officers, supplemented by unarmed community service officers will be stationed downtown.
“This may mean that response times outside this area may experience delays. An officer being assigned to this area does not mean that he or she can only patrol there. It means that’s where he or she is located until they are called elsewhere,” said Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad.
When the department was at full capacity, the city was split into sectors. But after the City Council voted to decrease the size of the force in June of 2020, the model shifted to a north/south model. Murad says the department currently has 57 officers to respond to calls. In order to ensure presence in the downtown area, community partners will augment police in various roles, such as community service liaisons and community support officers, the Howard Center’s Street Outreach Team, and newly added city park rangers.
“This kind of experience in our downtown is unacceptable and what we’re rolling out today is a plan to turn this around and to protect our downtown,” Weinberger said. But the mayor says it’s going to take time as the city continues to address plummeting police staffing.
“It’s really sobering to think that at one point the number was up around 90. It makes me concerned for our ability to deliver the kind of police response that our community needs. That being said, I’m glad that there is a renewed focus on our downtown,” said Kelly Devine with the Burlington Business Association.
With summer just around the corner and more than 130 events scheduled downtown, Murad says the more traffic downtown, the better. “If we tell people to come and they come, that alone makes a place safer, more secure, and reinforces that safety in an ever reinforcing circle. So, we’re hopeful that these type of events bring the right people into the downtown and make it a place where we can actually feel like a community that we want to be,” he said.
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