by Guy Page
December 5: Perri Freeman, two-term city councilor, will not seek re-election in March. Ms. Freeman was a leader among the Defund the Police movement and also proposed disarming city police while on patrol. A like-minded Progressive has announced plans to seek her Central district seat.
December 6: Democrat Maea Brandt defeats Progressive to wins city council special election in the East district, giving Democrats narrow control over city council.
December 12: Burlington police, unable to safely, effectively respond to violent man barricaded in apartment, forced to ask UVM and South Burlington police for assistance.
Freeman (Antioch College, Class of 2015) defeated longtime city councilor Jane Knodell in the 2019 Progressive primary and soon, to quote Seven Days, “ushered in a new wave of Progressive politics in the Queen City.” Decriminalization of prostitution followed. But perhaps her most visible impact was on policing. Freeman and other young Progressives voted to reduce the force through attrition, supported a police oversight board, and marched at Mayor Miro Weinberger’s home with protesters who “demanded accountability for violent police actions.” Her proposal to disarm police (except in extreme situations) was met with derision and disbelief in some city circles, but indicated her anti-police goals.
Freeman informed Seven Days of her decision on Monday, December 5. Exactly seven days later, and just a few blocks away from the 1 North Avenue headquarters of the Burlington Police Department, a potentially deadly incident took place in which an understaffed BPD was forced to ask other local police departments for help.
At 7:10 PM BPD dispatchers received a call from a person at the 198 North Avenue apartment he shared with Vincent Ford, 26. The caller said Ford – known to police “owing to prior incidents” – had threatened to kill him.
“Because of other calls for service occurring in the city at that time, the Officer in Charge requested mutual aid from the University of Vermont Police Department,” a BPD statement said.
One (1) BPD officer and one UVMPD officer were sent to the location. They found Ford spitting, lunging, threatening, destroying property.
“To address the barricaded suspect, the BPD deployed its Emergency Response Unit, including calling in off-duty ERU officers,” BPD said. “The South Burlington Police Department also sent two officers to assist.”
About five hours later Ford exited by rear window, armed with knives and a hammer. He jumped from the roof and (unstopped by police) ran through neighborhood back yards until the cops dropped him with a non-lethal bean bag shotgun round. He was treated at the hospital and lodged at the state prison in St. Albans.
To sum up: Burlington police got help from two other police agencies – and were still too undermanned to prevent a rear-window escape of an armed and deadly individual.
Before Perri Freeman and her police-oppositional colleagues took over city government, Burlington was seen as a good place for cops to work. Nice city, good pay, good benefits. Now the pay is still good, but trust broken cannot easily be restored. So now when a major response is needed, Burlington police need to call other police, and hope they respond before lives are lost.
Maea Brandt’s election may, or may not, spell the end of the growth of Progressive policies in Burlington. But if so, Freeman’s legacy will be the human impact of defunding and devaluing the role of police in a modern U.S. city.