Burlington Police Department says it will prioritize calls due to short-staffing

Local News

Faced with staffing shortages and a spike in violence, the Burlington Police Department has unveiled a new Priority Response Plan that will help determine how it deploys its officers.

“We knew that as staffing decreased and as incident volume picked up, there would be times where we would not have resources to respond,” said acting Chief Jon Murad.

The news came following a busy weekend with parties, robberies, gunfire and vandalism.

“We had very, very large parties, we had incidents with robbery, gunfire vandalism, along with series of vandalisms. But it’s not simply the volume of those incidents — it’s also the complexity of those incidents,” said Murad. 

Currently, there are 82 BPD officers; only 77 are considered deployable, Murad said. Under the Priority Response plan, if two or fewer officers are available, police will not respond to what Murad called priority 3 incidents, such as noise complaints.

According to BPD, those incidents made up nearly 50 percent of all calls in 2020. Less than 8 percent were the most serious priority 1 incidents. Examples of priority 2 incidents include disorderly conduct, mental health issues and trespassing.

Murad says he isn’t worried the plan will put the city’s safety in jeopardy. Others, however, aren’t so sure.  

“I feel like it might be an issue for some situations. Something as little as a noise complaint can be as big as domestic violence or some sort of top crime,” said Burlington resident Javain Headley.

Another resident wonders how the city can allocate other resources.

“If people aren’t showing up for some of these other incidents, who is showing up to support people who may feel in danger, disturbed, or whatever it is?” said Megan Zinka. 

But she says the plan could also have a positive impact on the city. 

“I feel better that police will respond to fewer incidents, especially if they’re not violent. I feel that police should respond to incidents that are violent — that’s where their presence is really needed,” said Zinka. 

Murad said a light at the end of the tunnel is that the department can add 10 unarmed community service officers in fiscal year 2022. These officers could potentially respond to 15-20 percent of the call volume. It takes nearly 7.5 months to train these members. The department wants to start hiring them in July. 

“CSO’s are not sworn police officers, they do not have law enforcement powers, they are not armed,” Murad said. “But they are capable of functioning in a variety of roles, many of which we are hopeful will be able to ameliorate the kinds of staffing deficits that we’re seeing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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