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EXCLUSIVE: Burlington incident rate still accelerating four years after defunding

By Michael Bielawski,

In June 2020, the Burlington City Council voted to defund via attrition its police staff by about 30 percent and nearly four years later crime rates are still accelerating. Meanwhile, the officer count at the now-understaffed department remains stagnant.

Every Chief’s report has a status update on the volume of crimes they see monthly and how many officers they have available. The latest report for March has a familiar theme.

It states, “Incidents in 2024 are up 9% compared to 2023. BPD is addressing more incidents with fewer patrol officers—50% fewer, actually. As a result, of the 7,598 incidents in 2024 so far, 886 have been “stacked”—i.e., 12%. And 484 have been referred to online reporting, or 6%.”

Stacked also means that there are no officers sent to the crime scene, or at least not initially. During the summer of 2023, the Vermont Daily Chronicle was told by store owners along the popular Church St. shopping center that getting the police to respond to non-violent incidents - mostly retail thefts - is a long shot.

The report notes more about their stacking policy. It states, “With staffing down and incident volume up, the BPD had to create the Priority Response Plan. It husbands resources while remaining true to our duty to prioritize our NEIGHBORS’ PHYSICAL SAFETY and their sense of safety.”

Some of the non-priority calls meaning there will be no immediate physical response include a stolen car, retail theft, illicit drug sales, cruelty to animals, and more.

Crimes that are at or near new highs for the past six years include 18 aggregated assaults, the previous high being in 2022 there were 17 such incidents by this point. Aggravated assault means there was intent to cause “serious bodily harm” ( and it can include a weapon.

There have been five gun-related incidents already this year, the previous high for this point was three. Police Chief Jon Murad said in past reports that there used to be just a few incidents in an entire year for most of the previous decade.

Stolen vehicles are down nearly half of the number from last year, with 55 stolen versus 103. The overall trend is still bad news because before 2022 when there were also 55, there were 18 or fewer cars stolen by this point.

Overall, the most serious crimes or ‘priority 1’ calls are up. The report states, “Priority 1 incidents have been climbing steadily over the past few years. Last year’s total was significantly affected by the huge increase in overdose. So far 2024 is a bit lower than 2023, which was the highest in nearly a decade.”

Murad is concerned about racial disparities in traffic stop data. He wrote, “The demographics of BPD traffic stops have historically been close to the demographics of crashes, which is the best way to determine a city’s driving population. In 2023 there was a notable deviation, shown at right. Chief Murad is concerned about it, and wants to be reflective and responsive to it.”

In the past, other law enforcement leaders allege that it is very difficult - especially at night and/or if the car is speeding - for an officer choosing to pull over a car to know the race of its occupants.

In 2019 Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier told True North Reports that “Unless you are downtown with all the street lights on [at night], you can’t tell who’s driving,” he said.

The author is a writer for the Vermont Daily Chronicle


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