Burlington residents call for more action on public safety after shooting incidents

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:08 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:35 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Calls for more public safety in Burlington after yet another gunfire incident in what has been a record year for gun violence in the city. There have been no arrests so far in that shooting incident Wednesday in City Hall Park, and police say it appears no one was shot.

But people who live nearby are speaking out, calling for more public safety downtown. And there’s a new effort by residents to bring their concerns about public safety before the City Council.

“My biggest fear is the gunshots. We’ve heard them,” said Andrew Riecker, who lives downtown.

Riecker says the rise in crime followed the downsizing of the police department.

Back in 2020 city councilors voted 9-3 to reduce the Burlington Police Department by 30%. What followed was an exodus of officers leaving the department far below the cap the council had set.

Currently, the BPD has 62 officers, 20 of whom are available for patrol.

This past year, after much dissension on the council, they voted to increase the cap to 87 officers with the hopes of getting back there in a few years.

Citizens say they want the police department rebuilt and supported so the BPD can have more of a visible force downtown.

“Maybe there are alternative ways to apprehend some people but doing this experiment of eliminating it to a certain extent has been catastrophic for anyone who lives in downtown Burlington, and I think we have a right to be safe,” Riecker said.

He is helping to organize citizens to go to the council’s next meeting to air their grievances. He says on his block he witnesses drug transactions and is now fearful to walk his dog at night.

Over the last several months, the City Council has fully funded the police department’s budget; approved a new contract for officers, making them the highest paid law enforcement in the state; and added a new position to the department specifically dedicated to recruitment and hiring. They also voted to put 100 more security cameras out in Burlington.

“These are incredibly important steps I think in the long term are going to correct the issues with respect to recruitment and retention in our police department,” said Ben Traverse, D-Burlington City Council.

However, Traverse says they need to be looking at the short term because just saying the police department is understaffed doesn’t solve the issue. Coming up, he says the council is working on scheduling community forums for citizens to interact with law enforcement and officials to make sure they’re heard.

Moving forward, they are looking at whether they can bring in more outside law enforcement, utilize more private security and increase the number of unarmed officers as ways to bridge the gap until the police force is rebuilt.

“It’s a complicated issue, there’s a lot of moving pieces to it all, but we understand that simply long-term solutions looking years out the line are not the answers folks are looking for right now and we need to be doing better to make sure folks are heard, that they are addressed and hopefully addressed sooner rather than later,” Traverse said.

Just in the last couple of weeks, the Chittenden County Gun Task Force was announced. It’s made up of local, state and federal law enforcement partners. And they’re already being put to work, stemming from the shooting on Wednesday night, I’m told some of the evidence was sent to the ATF for them to try to figure out who was behind it.

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