Crime up, police protection down in ‘defunded’ Queen City
Faced with more crime and less police protection, a Burlington business group is taking matters into its own hands – peacefully.
In response to increased incidents of violence and threatening behavior in the downtown, a group of businesses and community stakeholders have come together to establish the Safety Escort Program, the Burlington Business Association announced July 20.
The Safety Escort Program will provide on-call safety escorts in the general downtown area. By phone or text, anyone can request a safety escort and a friendly ‘ambassador’ will walk them to or from their vehicle, building, hotel or workplace. First priority will go to retail and nightlife employees.
According to the 2021 Downtown Safety Survey, conducted by the Church Street Marketplace, 53% of the respondents say they feel unsafe or very unsafe in downtown at night. 66% report a “regular exchange about safety issues” between staff and management. 51% say they have been a victim of crime or harrassment coming to or leaving downtown.
In the past week, the Burlington Police Dept. has responded to incidents of disorderly conduct, domestic assault, a stabbing, and an assault with a hammer on a restaurant worker.
Mark Bouchett, owner of downtown business Homeport, said “for years, members of the Homeport staff have consistently shared their concerns about how they do not feel safe. Concern has only grown with recent attacks on downtown workers, and this is why I will be supporting the Safety Escort Program until a more permanent solution can be found.”
Burlington GOP City Council candidate Christopher-Aaron Felker said he supports the program but urged a “positive policing policy” providing more police coverage for the downtown area. Last year, the Burlington City Council reduced funding for patrol officers in the wake of the George Floyd killing and subsequent anti-police protests.
“Our small business community shouldn’t need to hire private security to keep their employees safe,” Felker said on social media yesterday. “This safety escort program is Exhibit A for why we need a properly funded and staffed Burlington Police Department.”