Burlington City Leaders Working on a Way to Curb Crime Downtown

Police have responded to three deadly crimes involving homeless since March 2016

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Police say last weekend, 40-year old Mike Reynolds assaulted Brett Richland, the owner of East West Cafe.

Richland said he saw the homeless man walk past his restaurant again; police say Reynolds was released on conditions a day later.

Police say Reynolds has had almost 900 interactions with law enforcement since 2011.

Richland, along with business owners like Samara Brown at Radio Bean, are frustrated they see the same people out of jail just days later.

"It seems like they can only do so much and I'm not sure as to why," said Brown.

Brown adds she trusts police to respond quickly, but is still frustrated.

"I've seen him and I just kind of have that *gasps* feeling of just prepare for who knows what," said Brown.

Deputy Chief Shawn Burke says police are equally aggravated.

"One, police officers aren't just frustrated by the recurring behavior. Two, they're not really feeling dignity in their work by issuing these tickets that are meaningless, and third and probably most importantly, is the vulnerability when we interact with people that are in mental crisis and the violence that they pose to our officers and then have that, how our officers respond with force, how that's scrutinized by the public," said Burke.

In the last year and a half, police responded to three other violent crimes, all involving the homeless community; two of those incidents were deadly.

Burke says the Main Street business community reached out this summer about the disorder they've witnessed, which includes public drunkenness, lewd remarks being made to female customers and staff, and " just a general feeling of not feeling safe downtown."

So, what have police done so far?

After a stabbing almost two weeks ago, barriers were placed on the corner of Church and Main to be ready for police in the event of a protest or rally, but also to try and deter disorderly conduct away from Main St.

However, police say while there has been a "calming effect," it hasn't stopped panhandling or other incidents from occurring entirely.

"What this bike rack has done in the short term, it's moved, it's displaced you know the crew that is usually responsible for that disorderly and unsavory behavior that down here, and they're simply over here at City Hall," said Burke.

Local 22 & Local 44 News reporter Alexandra Leslie spoke to Mark MacKillop, owner of Muddy Waters off camera.

He says there needs to be a multi-pronged solution, which is "going to involve progressive strategies of policing that don't look at individuals problems collectively, and also need to involve an ordinance that acts as a deterrent to street level behavior that has become a problem."

Burke says right now, there are "limited city ordinances" to try and quell some of the behavior police keep responding to.

City councilors have drafted a resolution to try and find options to better support Burlington's homeless community, while also addressing public safety and health concerns.

The resolution will be discussed at the City Council meeting on August 28.

Richland says in cases like Reynolds, he agrees with finding treatment options.

"He needs to be housed somewhere until he...it doesn't necessarily have to be a jail, but somewhere where he is rehabilitated," said Richland.

Burke says he wants that, too, but also believes police might have to put a cap on people who violate city ordinances again and again.

"When these defendants default on the subsequent violations, and they appear in district court, are they able then to gain access to resources that would gear them towards success? What would a defendant like Mike Reynolds would look like if years ago because of a $50 dollar arrest warrant he ended up in treatment court and was adequately, you know given some wrap around services?" said Burke.

Reynolds was seen in the neighborhood by East West Cafe again on Wednesday evening.

Burlington Fire Department could be seen assisting Reynolds, and taking him away by ambulance.

Police tell Local 22 & Local 44 News Reynolds was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center for treatment, but would not elaborate what the treatment was for.


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