With crime numbers in Burlington at a 5-year high, including four homicides since July, some residents may be thinking the city isn’t as safe as it once was. 

But research by a UVM student shows the statistics don’t tell the whole story. 

Sam Powers, a sophomore from Woodstock, has launched a project to dig deeper into the data on so-called Priority One calls, which include domestic assaults, shootings and other gunfire incidents. But Powers says the Burlington Police Department also considers drug overdoses, suicides and 911 hang-ups as Priority One incidents, which skews the data.

“Priority one incidents are kind of made up of a lot of different case types,” Powers said. “When you aggregate all that together, you lose sight of what specifically is happening.”  

Powers’ data shows that fewer Priority One incidents pose a general public safety threat.

Priority One incidents are indeed on the rise in Burlington, but Powers says the crime data presented by the department can be misleading. He said his data collection shows that 28 percent of Priority One incidents in Burlington pose a threat to overall public safety. 

That’s the lowest percentage since 2011. 

Stephanie Seguino, co-chair of the Burlington Police Commission, says the COVID pandemic led to more reports of Priority One incidents that don’t pose a threat to other residents. But Powers collection of that data, she says, can give residents “a better sense as to how dangerous the city is.” 

Powers says he launched his data collection after hearing numerous complaints about gun violence in the Queen City. He said it’s a very-real concern among residents, and problem for law enforcement. But, he suggests, it’s a narrative unsupported by the data. 

“You can feel a certain way while also having Burlington still be a safe place,” he said.