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Burlington Councilor Addresses What We know Already 👏

The post below was an article written by Joan Shannon, City councilor, and published in the North Ave News. She indicated she has gotten more positive response from this article than any other she has written for the paper. Please feel free to contact her directly. Here is the article: Has the City Council's action to defund the police been validated by either data or experts? There has been quite a bit of discussion in the media and Front Porch Forums about crime, policing, and data. Much of it conflicting. While this column is unlikely to resolve the conflicting views in our community, here are some thoughts for consideration. We have had a culture change in terms of police calls. Community members are now loathe to call the police for a variety of reasons including increased fear of backlash, not wanting to bother a short-staffed department, anticipating the police will not be able to come, a loss of trust, and public pressure to resist calling. Could this culture change result in more incidents going unreported? Undoubtedly. In recent years, due to racial disparities, BPD policies have dramatically decreased traffic stops resulting in reduced "incidents." In 2015 BPD made 6,360 traffic stops. In 2021 there have been 542 traffic stops to date, according to police data. Did people stop speeding or blowing stop signs? No. It's just no longer policed. When you hear about a reduction in "police incidents" this is a big part of the reason why. Historically, Burlington has had 64 officers available for patrol, on average. As of this writing, the number available for patrol is 29 officers and it continues to drop. The Howard Center Street Outreach Team, Fire Department, and the Draft Police Operational and Functional Assessment, all have warned that the current staffing level is grossly inadequate and will likely have catastrophic consequences for some individuals. Despite these warnings, the Progressive Councilors joined by Councilor Dieng, have twice refused to allow even one more police officer to be hired. Such lack of action has also served to further demoralize the police and hastened the departure of officers by attrition. Cutting the police force is in no way "reform". It doesn't lead to better policing, or better de-escalation, or a more educated police force. It doesn't help us attract the very best to the job. In short, defunding works against community interests, while doing nothing to fight racism and inequities. Do police officers prevent crime or just respond to it? That's a tough question to answer. Hard to know what crimes didn't happen because we had officers on the street watching and talking to people. According to the data, crime has remained mostly the same. We know that gunfire incidents have significantly increased. However, I don't see a category for shootings in the police data, so I am unsure how that is tracked. We are certainly hearing about many incidents of bike theft and vandalism on Front Porch Forum that is not showing up in the data. Clearly on Church St. people are walking around all day long violating laws and there are no consequences. Nobody is calling in the blatant smoking, drinking, or even open injection of drugs. Those are issues that in the past were addressed by police who were on foot, and they could be addressed with a conversation rather than a ticket. Now the behavior happens unabated and is not tracked in any form of data. It's time to ask ourselves, are we better off now that we have defunded the police? Have BIPOC community members benefitted from defunding the police? Have criminals benefitted from defunding the police? Do we miss the foot patrols and community relationships we had under our long gone "community policing" model?

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