Burlington Police take steps to avoid missteps of last summer

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 3:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After last summer’s spike in gun-related incidents and other quality-of-life crime, Burlington police say they are ramping up enforcement efforts ahead of the busy summer season.

Officers patrolling Church Street in Burlington -- it’s something many say they would like to see more of this summer, despite ongoing staffing shortages.

“We’re taking what we’ve got, we are putting it where we know we had issues last year, and we are doing so as a means of establishing a baseline of expected conduct,” said Burlington Police Acting Chief Jon Murad.

It’s a response to last year’s record number of gunfire incidents, along with soaring retail theft, vandalism, and drug problems.

Those included loud confrontations between homeless people in high-profile areas like City Hall Park and Church Street that left many feeling the downtown was less safe.

Murad says two officers will have a dedicated beat in the downtown core. He says the department is able to have a more visible presence in those areas thanks to the city’s new corps of community service officers and community support liaisons.

The department is also looking to bolster the visible presence of officers and CSOs around bar closing time, along with support from state troopers when they can.

“Downtown Burlington needs to be a welcoming place where everyone feels safe. That has been what Burlington’s downtown has been for decades. We were not able to consistently deliver that throughout the summer last year and that’s gotta change this year,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

The business community has been demanding the city do more. “I’m happy for the entire downtown. Now we have to see if it works. I think we are looking at a few years of recovery from what happened,” said Kelly Devine with the Burlington Business Association.

We asked people on the street what they think. “Having a decent police presence and having a community understanding why they’re out here because there’s an uptick in crime, nobody likes crime,” said a visitor from Jay.

Others question whether it’s the best use of police resources. “A lot of the crime that’s been happening in Burlington -- as I have heard it -- has not been on Church Street in broad daylight, it’s been other stuff -- which is where I think we really need follow-up,” said Trevor Thomas of Winooski.

Business owners we spoke to say they are already seeing the impacts of the heightened police presence and hope that it continues.

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