Councilmember pushes to disarm police in Burlington

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) One Burlington city councilor is pushing to disarm police officers in Burlington.

Progressive Councilor Perri Freeman said she starting mulling over the idea after looking into what countries of similar size and gun ownership as Vermont do differently about policing.

“Realizing that there are actually several countries where they’re not using firearms for their regular police duties. Just to name a few: the U.K., Ireland, Iceland,” said Freeman. “I started thinking critically about what is the next step in terms of policing practices, whether that’s having more sophisticated training for officers, having a different expectation.”

President of the Burlington Police Officers Association Daniel Gilligan said the comparison between Vermont and Iceland is not sound.

“We’re not an island. We have people from all over the country that come from big cities that bring bigger cities problems here,” said Gilligan. “Their gun laws are much more restrictive, at least than the state of Vermont’s is. I think the comparison in itself is flawed and quite honestly, it’s just not realistic.”

Gilligan says America is “an armed nation” and there are too many people with guns in the U.S. to take them away from those who are expected to protect the public and come face-to-face with armed suspects.

“That is just not a safe situation for people in whose job it is to protect other people. Because you can’t protect other people if you can’t protect yourself,” he said.

Burlington Deputy Police Chief Jon Murad says there’s another reality to consider.

“The United States has a high rate of violent crime, some of it driven by those guns or at least the prevalence and the availability of those guns. And the United States has higher rates of drug abuse and other instances that can sometimes lead to violent crime than, say, Iceland,” Murad said.

As mass shootings continue to plague the U.S., some people would argue there’s more of a need for officers to have guns. In the Dayton, Ohio shooting on August 4, it took responding officers less than a minute to shoot and kill the gunman, who had already killed nine people. Police say it’s uncertain how many more lives would have been lost if officers showed up without firearms.

“I think that poses a threat to the officer. It poses a prolonged threat to the people who are in the midst of that act,” said Murad. “An active shooter situation to which unarmed officers respond is an active shooter situation that is going to go on and have more victims.”

When asked what the alternative would be to police shooting and killing a suspect to end a mass shooting, Freeman argued it would be more productive to talk about how to prevent mass shootings in the first place.

“This comes to the argument that we should arm teachers. We’re continuing to escalate the level of violence in our communities instead of really thinking of how to reduce the root causes,” she said. “Mass shootings do not happen at the rate that it does in other places. I think the question is why do we have the problem of mass shootings at the rate that we do in this country? To me, It seems to be the more critical question.”

Freeman says some of the root causes of mass shootings are the rise of white nationalism, racism and sexism. She also said she doesn’t think the “tough on crime” approach will reduce the overall crime rate.

WCAX News also asked Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, what he thinks about the idea of disarming the police. He said it’s not something he supports and he doesn’t see it becoming a reality in Burlington.

“I think it’s really quite unrealistic to think they can do their job effectively and be safe themselves and keep the public safe if they were to be disarmed,” said Weinberger. “My sense is this is an idea that is really out of touch with the reality that the men and women of the Burlington Police Department face as they work every day to keep the city safe.”

Freeman told WCAX she will be further researching the topic and hopes to advance the conversation with the special committee on policing practices.