Burlington Progs respond to mayor’s tough-on-crime plan

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:36 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Progressives are responding to Mayor Miro Weinberger’s new public safety plan with plans of their own. In some cases, the city councilors say they want to “fill in the gaps” in the mayor’s plan, but a deep policy divide remains on some issues.

“We spend so much time focused on punishment that we, as a society, have chronically undervalued what victims really want or need -- and they don’t always want police action,” said Burlington City Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1.

She and other council members stressed the need to better support victims, including with a crisis response team, which was partially funded Tuesday by the Legislature. They also continue to ask for transformation through alternative forms of policing such as unarmed social workers and community officers, something the mayor also supports.

However, the big split between the two sides comes on the topics of police bias and oversight. On Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters will consider a ballot item that would establish a citizen oversight board to investigate police disciplinary issues. “We should embrace a democratic community control over our police department. The proposal simply codifies the principle that the police should not police themselves but they are accountable to the communities that they serve,” said City Councilor Eugene Bergman, P-Ward 2.

Mayor Weinberger staunchly rejects the ballot measure and has said it will further hamper the city’s efforts to rebuild the department following the Progressives’ budget cuts two years ago. “I can’t imagine any public employee wanting to work under a board system like what this charter change describes and I am worried that if this were to pass, it would really undermine the efforts that we have invested so heavily in and working so hard on the last year -- which are just starting to work,” Weinberger said.

The mayor also says that the police have taken major steps to address racial disparities including cutting down on the number of traffic stops shown to unfairly target people of color.

The Progressives say that’s not enough and are calling for the police to acknowledge bias within their ranks. “A key reason for the lack of community trust is that BPD still hasn’t taken accountability for the racial disparities in our policing. The last report that was released by the department doesn’t address that, although their data year after year has shown those discrepancies,” Bergman said.

The future of BPD Acting Chief John Murad also remains a source of friction. The mayor has said he will re-appoint the chief after the Progressive majority on the council last year rejected his confirmation. Progressives Tuesday said they haven’t seen enough transparency from Murad to change their opinion.

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