City Hall Park remains focus of quality-of-life offenses, critics say

Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Burlington businesses and residents are voicing concerns over ongoing issues with quality-of-life offenses and bad behavior downtown, including in City Hall Park, a popular gathering spot for the homeless in the area.

A typical summer day in Burlington’s City Hall Park -- a place that’s supposed to be welcoming for all. But some Burlington residents say its a place they stay away from. “It’s sad that a park that was made for families to have fun is no longer available to do that,” said Catie Tyrrell of Burlington.

“I live in the downtown. I have definitely seen a marked decrease in the quality of life here,” said Christopher Haessly of Burlington.

And some businesses say they are seeing stolen items showing up in the park. “I just knew that it was ours. It’s a very recognizable umbrella and I didn’t want it associated with what’s going on in the park,” said Elise Pecor with Vermont Pub & Brewery, who says one of their custom-made umbrellas with their name was swiped. “At the end of the day, it’s just an umbrella, but at the same time, it says something about what’s going on in our community.”

And while in the park, we were confronted by the group using the pilfered umbrella. According to the Burlington Business Association’s Kelly Devine, the brewpub isn’t the only business dealing with issues. “My phone receives phone calls and texts every single day, including Saturday and Sundays,” she said.

For years, the city has had complaints about groups that congregate in the park fighting, shouting profanities, and openly dealing and using drugs. Devine says when behaviors are unchecked, the problems increase. “Some of the illegal behaviors that are evident there don’t make it feel like it is for everyone. It feels like it’s gotten out of balance,” she said. She points to the lack of police presence and no consequences for offenders. “As long as we as a community don’t speak -- speak loudly ‘these behaviors are not ok, this park needs to be for everyone, this downtown needs to be for everyone,’ -- those behaviors are going to get magnified.”

Burlington Police point to ongoing staffing shortages which puts responses to low-level crimes low on the priority list. “It’s not for a lack of wanting to help in these situations or get into these situations and make people feel safer, it’s the sheer number of calls and stuff versus just less people to do it,” said Burlington Police Deputy Chief Wade Labrecque.

But the story doesn’t end there. Sam Shaner, the man who confronted our crew, later returned the umbrella to the restaurant.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Why did you do that?

Sam: Well, it was just the right thing to do. It was their umbrella. It was right there. I would want mine back.

Shaner says that he is dealing with mental health issues and visits the park to get outside and be around people. “I’m just trying to get back out in the world because depression gets me bad,” he said. And his message is to be kind. “Keep an open mind before you act and speak. That’s what I need to work on, too.”

We did not get firm numbers from the Burlington Business Association or the police on how many incidents are actually happening in the park. The mayor’s office said no one was immediately available to comment on the situation.

Related Stories:

Burlington residents respond to city’s use of summer rangers

Burlington Police offer reward to identify shooting suspect

Man shot in head during Burlington shootout, businesses damaged

Burlington mayor, police present safety improvement steps

Burlington businesses demand answers to public safety concerns

City contract ending for private Burlington security firm

Safety escort program in the works to protect downtown Burlington workers

Homeless object to Burlington City Hall Park makeover

ACLU suing Burlington over no-trespass ordinance

Copyright 2022 WCAX. All rights reserved.