BURLINGTON, Vt. – Next week, Burlington City Council is expected to vote on the 2021 city budget, which calls for $1.9 million in cuts at the Burlington Police Department.
After lengthy internal discussions on the impact of the proposed cuts, Interim Police Chief Jon Murad went into the details at Tuesday’s Burlington Police Commission meeting,
“Ten percent cuts for us mean that we lose 12 unfilled positions,” Murad said. “That not only means that the BPD can’t grow, but it also reduces our ability to prevent attrition by leaving no buffer for replacement officers
Murad said the proposal by Mayor Miro Weinberger would cut the department’s training by 70 percent, placing the department “on the razors edge of being able to maintain our current level of service.”
Over the last two weeks, hundreds of people have called in to public forums at various city meetings to request a steeper 30 percent budget cut along with other demands set forth by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Ward 4 and 7 NPA meeting, city councilors said they’re taking everything into consideration.
“They’ve been advocating and providing perspective about the issue itself,” said Ali Dieng, Ward 7 City Councilor. “This is what we want, this is how business should be done.”
“We’re listening, we’re hearing, and we’ll have to wrestle it out the next week or so, the plan is to try and make a decision on Monday night,’ said Sarah Carpenter, Ward 4 City Councilor.
Some on the Burlington Police Commission, including Chair Jabulani Gamache, are in favor of the proposed cuts. He took questions from residents at Wednesday’s NPA meeting.
“Do I honestly think they could be implemented overnight? I do not think so,” Gamache said. “We can absolutely shift the budget to more social services to deal with transient homeless problems in our downtown area and people who suffer from mental health crises.”
Along with widespread calls for deeper budget cuts, there have been demands from the public regarding the firing of officers Jason Bellavance, Cory Campbell and Joseph Corrow over use of force incidents.
At Tuesday’s police commission meeting, Gamache was planning to discuss a statement that if enacted may have called on those officers to resign.
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood halted the discussion, insisting that as agents of the city, the commission needs to “stay impartial” and refrain from “comments about officers that can be seen as negative or derogatory.”
Shireen Hart, vice chair of the Burlington Police Commission, couldn’t go into specifics at Wednesday’s NPA meeting, but spoke broadly about use of force incidents.
“I can say that a review of a case we reviewed a year ago versus a review currently would be a very different look based on the policies and what was available to us.”
If the city’s budget passes, Burlington Police Department’s officer capacity would be reduced from 105 to 93. Parking enforcement would also be shifted over to the Department of Public Works.
It would be a 10.2 percent drop in the police department’s overall budget, and Mayor Weinberger intends to put $300,000 toward a new fund for racial equity and police transformation, with the remaining $800,000 going toward reducing the deficit.