By Guy Page
At a July 30 political debate, a Burlington City Council candidate demanded more police protection for city residents. The next day, Burlington experienced a drug-related shootout and a racially-motivated assault in Battery Park by a man with 26 police encounters since January.
Police protection – or the lack of it – is becoming an issue in the Ward 3 August 17 special election to replace Progressive council member Brian Pine, who was appointed to a full-time city job. The Progressive-led City Council last year voted to reduce police funding because of alleged systemic racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. When Progressive candidate Joe Magee dismissed concern about increased crime “fearmongering” at a Friday, July 30 candidate forum, GOP candidate Christopher-Aaron Felker responded.
“We aren’t talking about fear-mongering,” Felker said. “These are facts. In the last year, we have seen a sizable increase in assaults – simple, aggravated and sexual assault – we have seen an increase in quality of life crimes. This is not fear-mongering. These are called facts.”
As Magee sat quietly with his head down, Felker continued: “This is the city that we’re living in. If we want to talk about having a safe environment for Burlingtonians, we are going to do that by rebuilding our police department and rebuilding trust in our police department.”
Shortly after 3 am Saturday morning, police received reports of a shooting with multiple people firing at each other (called by BPD “a shootout”). Officers responded to Simon’s Mobil on South Winooski Ave, across from City Market.
According to police, witnesses described three black males fleeing in a truck after the gunfire. Earlier in the evening, officers had dealt with a disturbance and recognized the description of the truck. Canvassing officers quickly located and attempted to stop the truck. The truck attempted to elude officers and, during the evasion, an occupant discharged a handgun from the moving vehicle.
Eventually the truck stopped behind 90 Pearl Street where officers detained two black males and a black female. Further, officers located a bag containing a sizable amount of crack cocaine directly in front of the truck.
Later than evening, police say Matthew Kaigle, 33, Kaigle approached a male in the center of Battery Park. Kaigle punched the male multiple times as he sat on the bench, causing the victim to fall to the ground. Kaigle then kicked the male in the head multiple times as he laid on the ground.
The victim left on foot prior to police arrival. Officers were able to locate him. He said Kaigle also made malicious motivated statements of his perceived race/color. Police say Kaigle has displayed many violent tendencies towards the public in recent months, “unfortunately the victims did not want to cooperative with Police due to fear of retaliation from Kaigle.”
In a statement released today, Felker said the crimes Saturday cast a shadow on happier events meant to return Burlington to “normal community life.”
“This past weekend Burlington’s Ward 3 was proud to host the return of two treasured events:The Church Street Marketplace Festival of Fools and the Old North End Ramble. Both events brought a welcome return to normal community life, attracting visitors from Chittenden County, New England & around the world.
“Unfortunately this past Saturday morning a man assaulted another individual at Battery Park in an incident which may have been racially motivated. Ward 3 also had two incidents of gunfire this weekend; the waterfront skatepark & at a service station on South Winooski Ave.”
Felker said he’s glad to see the Police Commission raising the hiring cap on police officers, even if it’s just temporary.
“I hear the collective voices in our community loud and clear demanding we change direction. My Progressive opponents continue to have their heads buried in ideological sand. It’s time to put public safety over politics,” Felker said.