Crime and Justice

New Burlington Police Department assessment endorses smaller force

Acting Chief of Police Jon Murad speaks about the Burlington department’s new Priority Response Plan at a press conference in May. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The findings of a highly anticipated internal assessment of the Burlington Police Department affirm the views of those who have advocated for a smaller force. 

A draft of the report, conducted by firm CNA Consultants, has been delivered to city officials but has not been released to the public. It recommends that the police department employs between 76 and 83 officers, according to a statement issued Thursday morning by members of the Joint Committee on Police Transformation and Mayor Miro Weinberger. 

The recommended range represents an increase of at least two officers over the current cap of 74. It’s down from the previous cap of 105. 

Last summer, the City Council voted to cut the Burlington Police Department’s staff by 30% through attrition. The resources then would be reallocated toward social services and racial justice initiatives as the “defund the police” movement garnered more support throughout the country. 

But police left Burlington’s force faster than expected. Since then, the department has shrunk from about 90 members to 76. Meanwhile, the council’s Progressive members have effectively blocked two efforts to raise the 74-officer cap imposed on the department. They have insisted that the community should wait for the consultants’ report before making any changes to the officer count cap. 

The statement from the mayor’s office followed reporting from Seven Days on Wednesday detailing the contents of the draft after it was obtained by the alt-weekly. Seven Days reported that the draft also identified evidence of racial bias in the department, inefficient shift organization, lackluster training and a dearth of police oversight. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger in June. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The statement from the mayor’s office — which also included joint committee members Shireen Hart, a Police Commission member, and Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1 — said the assessment is currently a draft. Its contents are being finalized and “important clarifications” may be made, the statement read. 

“It is unfortunate that the report was leaked before it was finalized,” the statement said. “We do not wish premature analysis to erode the public’s confidence in the final report, as we all trust the process that produced it.” 

Weinberger, Hart and Hightower noted in their statement that the draft report’s recommendation for 76 to 83 officers “does not equate to an ‘authorized cap.’” 

“Further, where the City’s police staffing should fall in this range is dependent on a number of other factors and policy changes — in addition to required officers, the consultants provide 150 other recommendations,” the statement read. 

Otherwise, they said they were all “encouraged by the thoroughness” of CNA Consultants’ assessment and think it will serve as a helpful resource as the city develops consensus on the future of public safety in the city. 

Samantha Sheehan, spokesperson for Weinberger, told VTDigger the city cannot release the draft because it is “property of CNA.” 

She said the city expects to receive a final report from the firm at the end of the month, at which point it will be released to the public. 

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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