Acting Police Chief Jon Murad told Burlington City Council on Monday that the department has had to be “innovative” to overcome chronic staffing shortages.

Murad said the department has just 62 sworn officers, forcing it to be creative in deploying resources. He said more calls — about 15 percent now — are “stacked,” or ranked as low-priority, non-emergencies, when officers on duty are spread too thin.

“If we do not have sufficient resources to respond to a call, we stack it,” Murad said. “We also drastically expanded the number of calls that we refer to online reporting.” 

Murad said the department also relies more on community service officers and community support liaisons to handle calls that would normally require a regular officer’s response.

“The calls for service in which CSL’s go are not calls for service that we would have necessarily had before,” Murad said. “They are not necessarily an indication of being able to replace work that was done by officers.”  

The department is aiming to construct a crisis-response team of clinicians and medical professionals to help deal with the spike in ‘priority one’ calls, which include gunfire incidents. The team would respond to calls involving mental-health conditions and substance-use disorders.

“The real hope is that at some point this is able to prevent those crises from metastasizing to an incident that requires police intervention in the first place,” he said. 

Some councilors said addressing homelessness and mental health in the community would make a larger impact than an increase in officers. Mayor Miro Weinberger said the city has seen an “explosion” of people who are chronically homeless.

“That number got as low as 35 and is now believed to be over 220,” he said.  

Weinberger told council members that the city has nonetheless made progress on its 10-point Action Plan to combat the city’s housing crisis