Burlington approves cut in police staffing

Published: 6/30/2020 8:34:09 PM
Modified: 6/30/2020 9:12:44 PM

BURLINGTON — The Burlington City Council passed a resolution Monday reducing police staffing levels following weeks of calls from community members to redirect police funding to social services.

The resolution sets the new cap for officers at 74, which is a 30% reduction from the current cap of 105. It states that funding from the reduction would be used to “reduce the demand for police services through a variety of social services, as well as social justice, racial justice, and economic justice initiatives.”

The reduction would be achieved through attrition as officers leave or retire. The force had 91 members as of last week.

The vote follows weeks of calls from residents that the council enact the demands of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. In recent weeks, more than 1,000 speakers have called into municipal meetings to express support for the group’s demands.

Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1, thanked the alliance for localizing the national movement and thanked those who have voiced their support. She said she believed the calls from the community pushed the council to take action.

“I’m really grateful those voices called in, and gave us the courage to … pass this resolution,” she said.

The resolution also declares racism a public health crisis and terminates a memorandum of understanding with the Burlington School District that outlines the school resource officer program at the end of the spring 2021 semester.

The city also plans to create a community-based cultural empowerment center, a minority-owned business procurement program and provide additional funding for the its Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging function.

A joint committee made up of the council’s Public Safety Committee and Police Commission will be established to review “how to build a healthy and safe community,” including an inquiry into the Burlington Police Department.

As part of the measure, city staff will undergo additional trainings on systemic oppression and the city will establish a task force to consider an apology or reparations for the role that Burlington has played in slavery.

The resolution also calls for officials to review and propose amendments that would give the police commission the ability to impose officer discipline and override disciplinary decisions made by the police chief.

Councilor Brian Pine, P-Ward 3, said that he thought the resolution was a significant step forward.

“I think the accomplishment tonight is pretty significant for a community that just a few weeks ago started grappling with this particular approach, or this particular chapter, or what we need to do to dismantle racism,” he said.

Burlington’s police union says that several lines in the resolution are subject to collective bargaining. Vinny Ross, a spokesperson for the union, said that the union is consulting with its attorney.

But residents continued calling Monday to support the demands of the racial justice alliance.

“This is about transforming the lives of Black and brown people by investing in their lives, by holding space for their culture, by providing them with opportunity, and ensuring equity that they deserve to thrive,” said Mark Hughes, a member of the racial justice alliance.

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