Critics say Weinberger's police reallocation plan doesn't go far enough

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's 2021 budget proposal to the City Council includes a plan to reallocate and makes cuts to the police budget, but many critics say the city needs to go further to defund the department.

"This is a moment where we need to make long-overdue progress towards police transformation and racial justice," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Hundreds of people phoned into Monday's meeting urging the mayor to withdraw the funding and move it to other city funds and programs. The national outcry following the death of George Floyd has led to calls in many cities to restructure policing to address systemic racism.

Weinberger asked that $1.9 million be taken out of the Burlington Police budget. About $1.1 million of that would be reallocated to other city programs, including a new fund centered around racial justice. About $800,000 would come in straight cuts to police as part of overall COVID-related budget cuts.

"We're going to immediately allocate $300,000 of these cuts to a new fund," Weinberger said. "It is a new fund for racial equity and police transformation."

"I want to clearly state that I support the demands outlined by Vermont Racial Justice Alliance," said Ashley Laporte, one of many residents who addressed the City Council Monday and went beyond the mayor's requests.

Laporte and others said the mayor is not in a position to make these requests when the city has resources like the Racial Justice Alliance.

"It is not OK for the mayor to believe that he has a better plan than the people who have been in this work for a long time," she said.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance last week sent a letter to Burlington leaders asking them to defund the Burlington Police Department. That included taking cops out of Vermont schools, reducing the Burlington Police Force by 30% and removing officers with a history of violence against people of color.

Hundreds of those signed up to speak echoed these points and called for support of the alliance, but there were a few who advocated for the Burlington Police Department.

"Officers that we keep, we need to do a better job supporting them," Aaron DaCosta said. "They have a very difficult role in our city and so I'd like to support them in better ways."

The Burlington Police Officers' Association has said defunding the department without a clear path forward is radical and dangerous.

The City Council will hold a final vote in two weeks. The Burlington Police commission will be meeting on Tuesday to go over the new use-of-force policy.