Long-awaited Burlington Police assessment recommends more officers, more oversight, new policies

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A Virginia-based consulting firm hired by the City of Burlington to look into the police department has released its final Functional and Operational Assessment. The report, conducted by CNA, includes several key findings and 149 recommendations. It cost the city $100,000.

It found the Burlington Police Department lacks enough staff to handle its volume of calls for service. The BPD has shrunk from 96 sworn officers in early 2019 to 68 today, according to a Friday email from Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office. The CNA analysis shows that, to provide adequate service to the Queen City, the BPD needs 72 to 75 officers in its employ. This figure is in line with a City Council-imposed staffing cap of 74.

However, that staffing range of 72 to 75 does not account for attrition and the length of time required to fill officer vacancies. “You need a buffer in order to be able to hire in any profession where you’ve got a 14-month hiring process, so you have to have a little difference between the top number that’s authorized versus the number that you need actually to be an effective operational entity,” Acting Chief Jon Murad said.

The report recommends a buffer of five more officers, creating a suggested range of 77 to 80. City Councilor and Joint Committee on Public Safety Transformation co-chair Zoraya Hightower said the suggestion of 77 to 80 is almost exactly like the one included in a draft version of the document which was leaked to the media in mid-September.

“They might still be off one or two officers, but I thought they were fairly similar, which I’m taking to be having staffing of somewhere between 76, 80 officers, caps of slightly higher than that — when we’re counting the airport again.”

The CNA recommendation of 77 to 80 officers does not include eight officers which the BPD is contracted to provide full-time to Burlington International Airport. If they were counted, they would raise the staffing range to between 85 and 88.

The report also found that the BPD “relies on an inefficient staffing model”. CNA recommends that the department adopt a 12-hour shift plan.

The report examined BPD’s training and also looked at whether there is racial or socioeconomic bias. CNA says, after analyzing traffic stop data, there are “potential racial disparities…in citations for traffic violations, searches, and arrests.” It also says Black community members experience disparities in traffic stops, as well as disparities in stop outcomes, noting that there are “disparities in use of force incidents”. CNA says there is no apparent socioeconomic bias in relation to BPD’s deployment of personnel.

CNA determined that the department has “significant deficiencies in training” and that key training topics for 21st-century policing appear to not be covered sufficiently. The document shows that BPD officers likewise desire additional training opportunities.

“There’s still some disparities that happen in our policing,” Hightower said. “There are some training deficiencies, and then there’s some lack of internal structures and systems around accountability, around transparency, around complaints and how they’re handled.”

“I don’t agree with its assessment of our training,” Acting Chief Murad said. “Our current training, I think, is very strong. I think it’s the strongest in the state for any agency, and I think we have an exemplary use-of-force review process as well.”

CNA recommends more community engagement and outreach; the report also recommends training to address potential bias. It also called on the City of Burlington to formalize the authority of the Police Commission beyond an advisory role.

Other recommendations include implementing a traffic stop data system, thorough review of use of force incidents and the establishment of a community mental health advisory committee.

Murad also wrote Friday that the BPD is eager to address many of the recommendations. In a statement, he noted in part:

“While I do not believe this assessment is a final blueprint for public safety in our community, it does contain many recommendations that the BPD can use to improve our policies and operations. I’m grateful for its insights and I’m committed to using parts of it to drive further improvements of our department. My goal, as always, is to continue to meet our mission of keeping people safe, with and for our neighbors, and also to continue to transform our department to meet our community’s shared vision for public safety.”

Mayor Miro Weinberger was not available for an interview on Friday but wrote that the CNA report “affirms several priorities of the Administration”. His office said he supports working with the City Council to review all 149 recommendations in the weeks and months ahead.

The mayor added that, like Acting Chief Murad, he agrees with the staffing recommendation but disagrees with CNA’s suggestion to re-assign the BPD’s domestic violence prevention officer to other tasks.

There are links to correspondence between Weinberger, Murad and the consultants with CNA about the substance of the report in the ‘Communications With CNA’ section of this page.

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