Burlington’s new plan to get more police in its ranks

Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 5:52 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2022 at 7:40 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Leaders in Burlington hope a funding increase and a new union contract will help the city’s police department reverse a sharp drop in its ranks over the past two years.

Monday, city leaders announced incentives, recruitment and retention measures to begin rebuilding the number of police officers in the Burlington Police Department.

Currently, there are 61 officers. That’s down from the mid-90s just two years ago when the Progressive-led City Council voted to slash the department by 30%.

After the council voted to decrease the officer count, the number of officers kept falling in the department.

Of the 61 officers now, just 53 are available for deployment, including 21 available to be on patrol.

“We are looking for good men and women to join this most important of professions,” Burlington Acting Police Chief Jon Murad said.

At a press conference Monday, Chief Jon Murad and Mayor Miro Weinberger fully laid out their plans to rebuild the department through higher pay and more aggressive recruiting.

“We are open for business. We are looking to rebuild, we are looking to regrow and we are looking to do it in a way that meets what our community has said that it wants and to reestablish the kinds of safety that we expect here in Burlington,” Murad said.

In recent weeks, the City Council has committed more than $1 million to a three-year plan to retain and recruit officers.

The council also approved a new Burlington Police Association contract which will start officer salaries at $71,000 with a $15,000 signing bonus.

“How does Burlington’s starting salary compare? I think it blows everyone out of the water right now in Vermont and in Chittenden County,” Murad said.

Murad said they have hired three new recruits who will be going to the police academy this month, so hopefully, this is the smallest the department will be.

BPD is also looking to double the number of people in civilian positions such as CSL and CSO positions that help bolster responses to ordinance violations and mental health issues.

However, according to the department, incidents such as gunfire and stolen vehicles are up more than 500% on the five-year average, and the city says they need more officers to work on solving these crimes and hopefully preventing them.

“To have a fully resourced detective bureau, to be able to properly do everything we can to disincentivize, to make it less likely these crimes take place in the first place, we need a more robust police department,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Progressive City Councilor Joe Magee feels the conversation is not headed in the correct direction. He says in past years with nearly 100 officers, incident numbers were similar. He wants the department to focus more on alternative solutions, saying in a statement: “The conversation continues to incorrectly center policing as the solution to a myriad of issues. Meeting basic needs like housing, mental health care, and recovery should be the focus of our attention.”

Burlington Police hope to increase the number of officers up to 85 in three years. However, they will need to double the number of recruits annually and improve retention rates to 55% to achieve that.

They are also hiring two nonsworn positions, including a recruitment coordinator and public information officer.

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