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EXCLUSIVE: Burlington Chief’s Report: Incident volume already up 23% over last year

By Michael Bielawski,

The February Burlington Police Chief’s Report is out, and though only two months into the year already the data is not showing that crime is slowing down after new highs in incident volume last year, and in fact it’s continuing to trend upward.

The report states, “Incidents in 2024 are up 23% compared to 2023.BPD is addressing more incidents than in years with 50% fewer patrol officers. Of the 3,502 incidents in 2024 so far, 371 have been “stacked”—i.e., 11%. Additionally, 260 have been referred to online reporting, or 7%.”

Stacked means officers had to not initially respond in person to a call because there were more urgent crimes occurring at that time and limited officers available.

The report states, “They have made numerous ejections and arrests. But when a typical BPD patrol shift has only four officers, recurring focus on the address is challenging. New access controls will be key to reclaiming residents’ sense of safety.”

Low officer count getting better

In June of 2020 the Burlington City Council voted to defund the BPD’s authorized headcount from 105 to 74. An officer exodus ensued bringing the count down to just over 60 officers.

The Council has since reversed course and done more to make a police career in Burlington more attractive.

“In Oct 2021, the council raised the cap from 74 to 87, but it was not until a new, strong police contract was ratified in July 2022 that headcount stabilized. We are now working to rebuild,” the report states.

As of the start of February, there are only 69 officers with the force of which fewer are available due to various circumstances. The report states, “As of February 15 2024, we are authorized for 87 sworn officers. That’s not enough, but it’s the current number. Of those 87, we have 68. Of those 68, 56 are able to be deployed as solo officers, or ‘effective.’”

However the situation is improving. The report states, “However In 2023, we hired 15 sworn officers—more than we ever have in any single year since at least the 1990s.”

Battery Street park cleaned up

One of the first highlights is that a huge amount of garbage/debris remaining from an abandoned homeless encampment has been removed.

“On January 29, Community Support Liaisons (CSLs) from the BPD’s Crisis Assessment Intervention Programs (CAIP) team, police officers, and partners from Burlington Parks Recreation & Waterfront (including Director Cindi Wight) and the Department of Public Works cleared out the remains of a dangerous, unlawful encampment along Battery Street and on “the shelf”—a ledge in the hillside down hill from the Battery Street greenbelt,” the report states.

Photos of the encampment show tons of dangerous materials spread across a large area. The report notes that folks still residing at the encampment leading up to the cleanup were warned ahead of time and were aided in finding new and safer places to go.

The report also notes that not everyone who left the encampment found a great next option. Some of them have made their way to Decker Towers, an apartment building run by the Burlington Housing Authority. The report states, “cold weather and easy access have meant unhoused persons are trespassing in the building with alarming frequency.”

The building already had a reputation of being a trouble spot for crime and drugs.

The moon will bring trouble?

On April 8 Vermont will witness its first total solar eclipse in 92 years. BPD is already planning for huge increases in tourism during that time.

The report states, “more than 100,000 people may come to our region. Most hotels are already sold out, often at much higher prices than normal. Deputy Chief Labrecque has been planning how best to deploy our limited resources. We anticipate street closures and planned entertainment on the waterfront.”

The author is a writer for the Vermont Daily Chronicle


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