Burlington businesses are taking safety into their own hands with a new service called the “Safety Escort Program.”

Burlington Police officers have responded to a spike in crime, including an assault with brass knuckles. On Tuesday, a downtown business experienced a burglary and vandalism. Under the new program, employees will able to call or text someone to safely escort them home or to their car.

Burlington Business Association President Kelly Devine says many employees, especially women, have felt uncomfortable leaving work at night. 

“I’m a woman leader, I felt like I had to do something,” she said. “That’s not who we are as Burlington and that’s not okay to allow that to continue.”

She says a Safety Escort Program was originally offered through the Burlington Police Department for years. But, critical staffing shortages have make it difficult for them to provide the service. In a phone interview, interim Police Chief Jon Murad said only four officers were on call Wednesday for the entire city.

“One time, I was closing and I left through the back parking lot and there were three guys sitting on the wall and they said, ‘hey, baby, what’s your name?’ You know, all the things that they do. And then got really annoyed and angry when I didn’t respond,” said Anya Stampul, a full-time employee at Homeport on Church Street.

Stampul isn’t alone. In fact, in a Downtown Safety Survey conducted in 2021, more than 50 percent of respondents say they feel unsafe or very unsafe at night. More than 60 percent say they regularly talk about their safety concerns with their staff. And, more than 50 percent have mentioned experiencing crime or harassment first hand.

“It’s not fun, and I think it’s really good to have a program in place that’s going to hopefully help people feel more comfortable,” said Stampul.

Kristin Halvorson has been running Halvorson’s Upstreet Cafe on Church Street for more than 40 years.

“We’ve always told our staff, you know don’t leave the place alone whether it’s day or night or, you know, always have a buddy to walk with you or carry pepper spray with you, just always be on alert,” said Halvorson.

The BBA plans to hire a private security company and launch the program in the coming weeks. The goal is to have someone arrive within 15 minutes via call or text.

“Burlington’s downtown is like our community living room and we should have a level of behavior that certainly makes most people feel relatively safe and not subject to harassment,” said Devine.