Last June, a resolution was drawn up by the Burlington, VT, City Council to "address racial disparities in police interactions," declare racism a citywide crisis, and create more opportunities for residents of color. To fund the resolution's goals, the city set a new cap for the number of officers in the department at 74—30 percent lower than the previous one—and aimed to repurpose the money saved from the trim and hiring freeze for alternative responses to 911 calls, like unarmed social workers. Now the city is trying to pay its officers to stay.
In the 14 months since, the Burlington Police Department has dropped from around 90 officers, when the resolution was passed, to under 70 today. This is largely thanks, officials say, to cops leaving for higher-paying jobs in other departments or retiring earlier than expected. Kelly Devine, the longtime executive director of the Burlington business association, says she’s spoken to many disaffected cops herself, suggested some left town because of increased scrutiny on the department even as they faced greater workloads.
“Most of it was, ‘I gotta get out of here,’” she told The Daily Beast.
“It has led to a lot of backlash and outcry in the community for more police,” Jack Hanson, a progressive City Council member in Burlington, told The Daily Beast.
For her part, Devine told The Daily Beast, she’s convinced increased local concern about safety and crime in the normally tranquil oasis has a basis in reality, and specifically the city’s decision to defund the police.
The same Council that voted to defund its police voted unanimously on Monday to give nearly $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the police department and effectively write each remaining officer a $10,000 check to stay on the job.