Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said his department has had to rely on officers from nearby jurisdictions to handle the recent surge in violent crime.
The department responded to more than 50 calls Friday night, from a road rage incident to domestic assaults to a early-morning gun battle downtown, requiring requests for assistance from officers in Colchester, South Burlington and the University of Vermont.
“What we’re experiencing right now is an inability to service the calls that are our city’s calls,” Murad said. “And the need to ask other departments to handle those calls for us.”
Murad says the department is having to use its priority response plan, which sends officers to the most dangerous situations, more frequently. Numerous high-profile crimes, including a shootout, over the past several weeks have focused attention on department staffing levels. There were no injuries.
Early Saturday morning, surveillance cameras caught a shootout outside Simon’s Mobil on Winooski Avenue. Two men have been arrested, and police are searching for a third suspect.
“This is the type of incident we hate to see in downtown Burlington,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “Fortunately, we’re a city where that’s very rare. It’s important we keep it that way.”
Last year, the council reallocated the department’s budget to provide more social service programs. The mayor and council members say the “experiment” could take several years before improvements are seen.
Weinberger says it was clear when City Council approved a measure to downsize Burlington’s police force, other measures would be needed to ensure safety in the city. The mayor says he’s working with Murad to hire more community service liaisons and provide more security for City Hall Park.
He also cited the need for investments in mental health services. “But those are new systems, new programs that are going to take some time to stand up,” the mayor said.
While Murad agrees this will help ease the strain, he says it’s crucial for the department to retain and hire more sworn officers. Especially as gun fire continued early Sunday morning, near the skate-park along the Burlington waterfront. Police say no one was hurt, but a nearby apartment building was struck. They believe the incident is related to the Winooski Avenue shootout
“Gun fire, domestic assault is the work of police officers,” Murad said. “We need to retain and bring aboard additional officers who meet the needs of what our community wants in police officers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.