Police chief says officers respond to less than half of all calls
By Guy Page
Mayor Miro Weinberger says Burlington police officers will no longer work off-duty security for the River Watch condo development.
Public outcry against the private policing has been strong. Many crime-fearing Burlingtonians say it’s unfair for any private organization to rent Burlington police services while the entire city is suffering from reduced police coverage amid unprecedented higher rates of many forms of crime.
River Watch is a 215-unit condo association by the Winooski River, east of Pearl Street and the Winooski Bridge.
“Generally, our practice of allowing voluntary extra-duty police service agreements for special events provides broad public safety benefits, and at no cost to taxpayers,” Weinberger said in a January 31 statement. “However, I agree with many who have shared their concerns that the recent contract with a private condo association is problematic. This specific off-duty detail was unique, not consistent with City policy we negotiated in 2018, and will not continue.”
But Weinberger also pointed out what many other Burlingtonians also are saying about the city’s lack of policing.
“Of much greater concern is that any neighborhood in the City feels that they need to pay out of pocket for basic public safety services,” he said. “We need to get back to a place as soon as possible where we consistently have a strong public safety presence and the resources to provide an immediate response to any person who calls for police support as we have historically.”
Burlington PD was underfunded even before the Progressive-led City Council placed a moratorium on new patrol officer positions in 2020, following the killing of George Floyd. Despite aggressive bonus offers and widespread marketing for new police officers, the department as of early January had only 22 active patrol officers.
As a result, BPD triages responses to calls for assistance. “We stack or defer to online reporting 25% of calls and send [unarmed, quasi-police] Community Service Officers or Community Service Liaisons to another 25%—that is, we send police to 50% fewer calls,” Chief Jon Murad said. “We are down about 60% of patrol staffing. It is these deficits, together with the attendant rise in some crimes, that creates a feeling that service is inadequate throughout the city as a whole.”
Weinberger explained that It has long been the practice of the City of Burlington, as it is in most cities, to allow its police officers union to accept contracts with outside parties for the purpose of voluntary extra duty details.
Generally, these details help improve public safety broadly at no cost to taxpayers by ensuring that our trained and licensed local officers (in lieu of private security companies or officers from other agencies) are providing traffic control and are available to respond quickly at construction sites and for major public events including sports games, parades, festivals, the observance of major religious holidays, the marathon and other road races, and more.
It is common that City permits for such events include terms that require a certain number of police officers be present.
The Mayor directed the Department leadership to not renew the contract which expired on January 1, 2023, and to not approve any similar contracts. In total, BPD officers worked 220 hours at River Watch. Of the 20,000 total overtime hours worked by BPD in 2022, approximately 875 hours were extra duty for outside organizations.
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