Burlington Police call for backup: Reaction to troopers patrolling the city

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 5:27 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Police called on the Vermont State Police for backup over the weekend because of low staffing and 20 gunfire incidents, a dramatic increase from past years.

There was mixed reaction from city councilors Tuesday to troopers patrolling the city.

As the police department grapples with having just 21 officers available for patrol, they are now asking for help on a case-by-case basis when staffing drops too low to adequately staff busy nights.

Saturday night, 10 state troopers and their vehicles were stationed around the downtown area.

Just one night earlier, a shooting on Main Street injured two people after reports of a fight that got out of control.

In response, Burlington Acting Police Chief Jon Murad requested help from state police. In a letter to the director of the VSP, Murad said, “This is a request for a limited deployment in the form of foot patrol and foot posts in a high-profile location in the wake of a specific incident at that location.”

In his letter, Murad also noted that he did not believe his department-- which is currently 20 officers below its authorized level-- had adequate staff available Saturday night for the turbulent late night hours in the bar area of the city.

“I happen to think it’s a good thing to have an increased police presence downtown, particularly at bar closing,” said Gene Bergman, P-Burlington City Council.

Bergman said the response to incidents needs to be twofold in the wake of a disturbing increase in gunfire incidents, including more de-escalation and alternative policing such as CSOs and CSLs out late at night.

“I look forward to hearing the ways they are going to be dealing with preventing and deterring gun use downtown close to when the bars are closing,” Bergman said.

Colin Hilliard, the deputy director of the Burlington Business Association, agrees. He says that while the crisis intervention team and other forms of nonuniformed policing would be beneficial, he’s hearing businesses are happy about the state police presence downtown.

“A good presence to have down here. We had obviously the incident late Friday, early Saturday night, so just showing the community a presence of safety was really welcomed by the business community,” Hilliard said.

Progressive Burlington City Councilor Joe Magee pointed to two other incidents which occurred on Saturday. One was an officer-involved shooting of a 20-year-old man in the Old North End who was wielding a large kitchen knife; the other was a video captured of a use of force incident where police tackled a man after a verbal altercation on Saturday.

Magee says he’s disappointed with the lack of de-escalation he witnessed by officers, and he’s worried about what more officers downtown could mean for marginalized people.

“It’s frightening for a lot of people in the community. I question what state troopers would have done had an act of gun violence happened Saturday night. Would we have had a shootout happen downtown? I don’t know that that necessarily leads to a safer downtown for us,” Magee said.

Magee says the crisis intervention team who will be trained in de-escalation should be getting up and running this fall.

Now, this might not be the only time that Vermont State Police will have a presence downtown. Burlington Police say they could be requesting VSP help on critical staffing nights on a case-by-case basis depending on availability and need.

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