Don Keelan: Time to call out the National Guard in Burlington?

This commentary is by Don Keelan, a retired certified public accountant and a resident of Arlington.

I intended to write about the five Massachusetts cities that plan to ban natural gas for heating and cooking until I read about what is happening in Vermont’s premier city, Burlington. 

A few weeks ago, several more gun shootings were reported in the city. One of the incidents was so wild that even the WCAX-TV news editor noted that the video footage was upsetting. Sure was: three individuals shooting at one another at a gas station. 

That was not the only shooting that weekend, and today, the number of gun violence events in Burlington far exceeds the average for the prior five years. 

On the heels of this news, L.L.Bean announced it is leaving downtown Burlington and relocating its flagship store to Williston. The principal rationale was that its Burlington store had one of the country’s highest incidents of retail theft. The reasoning was the rise in homeless persons and drug users looking to obtain funds. 

The threat of violence in downtown Burlington is no longer just a perception. The downtown business sector’s association engaged a private security firm to escort late-night working staff to their cars or other means to get home safely. 

If this is taking place in one of Vermont’s top tourist destinations, why not call the police? Therein lies the problem. There are few police officers left to call. The city’s governing council has eviscerated the Burlington Police Department.

Until recently, a police force of 104 is now down to 74 and will possibly head to 59 if those eligible to retire/resign do so, and chances are they will. Time will tell if the recent hiring of social/mental health workers to assist the police will be effective. Meanwhile, the shooting incidents continue. 

Calling the Vermont State Police to help with the city’s violent crime increase is not a solution. That agency has its own issues in keeping the duty roster up to meet demand. With many Vermont towns requesting state police assistance, there are only so many troopers to provide additional coverage.

The Aug. 8 edition of VTDigger noted, “In a statement to Vermont media, Acting U.S. Attorney for Vermont Jonathan A. Ophardt has voiced deep concern over the increase in violent crime and the decrease in law enforcement capacity in the state.” 

I dislike seeing the military used to accomplish local and state government responsibilities. But, it is time for Burlington’s mayor to request the governor send the Vermont National Guard to Burlington and have it augment the city’s shrinking and overwhelmed police force. 

The mayor of Burlington and most members of the Ccty’s Police Commission have asked for additional police officers: eight more. At its Aug. 9 meeting, the city council voted not to increase the police force.

In the meantime, the “perfect storm” has arrived for Burlington: Summer is here; the police are not around; the fallout from illegal drug use is ever-present; the judicial system is backed up, dealing with hundreds of cases from prior years; and fear is on the minds of many.   

It is time for the governor to address what is taking place in Burlington. Vermont has experienced one epidemic that took a heavy toll on its people, businesses, schools and government.  We don’t need another escaping from Burlington and spreading throughout the State. 

I wish Burlington was free of its public safety crises. If so, I could then focus on what The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 2: “Massachusetts is emerging as a key battleground in the U.S fight over whether to phase out natural gas for home cooking and heating with fears of unknown costs and unfamiliar technologies fueling much of the opposition to going all-electric.”

People of Burlington, take back your streets.  


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