Government & Politics

Burlington mayor says police overtime for condo association ‘will not continue’

In a press release on Tuesday night, Mayor Miro Weinberger said a police union contract to provide extra patrols at River Watch Condominiums is “not consistent” with agreed terms with the union. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has vowed that a contract that allowed for overtime patrols for a condo association “will not continue.”

The Burlington Police Officers’ Association, the union for Burlington officers, signed the first agreement with River Watch Condominium Association for extra police patrols in late October 2022, according to Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Weinberger’s office. The contract was first reported by Seven Days. The condo association and union repeatedly renewed the agreement until January.

In a press release issued Tuesday night, Weinberger noted the current contract between the police union and the city allows for overtime at special events.

“However,” he said, “I agree with many who have shared their concerns that the recent contract with a private condo association is problematic.”

Sheehan said in an email that the officers were paid $81 an hour, a rate determined by the police union’s contract with the city. According to a copy of the River Watch contract, the condo association asked for two officers to patrol at the condos on Hildred Drive nightly between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. 

Reached on Wednesday, representatives from the police union declined to comment.

VTDigger also reached out to several board members for the River Watch condo association. By Wednesday afternoon, some declined to comment and others did not respond.

As Weinberger’s office sent the release Tuesday night, the police commission was discussing the issue at a special meeting. Stephanie Seguino, a commission member, said in an interview on Wednesday that the commission discussed Weinberger’s efforts to confirm that the River Watch arrangement was “unique” and not part of a pattern.

“We were satisfied with the fact that this seems to be a unique circumstance, and that the mayor has instructed (Acting Police Chief Jon Murad) to not renew the contract,” Seguino said.

Seguino said a “related complaint” at the commission meeting required an executive session, but she did not elaborate.

In his press release, Weinberger said the River Watch contract expired on Jan. 17 and he directed the police department to not renew it or to allow similar contracts moving forward.

He also said he reviewed all police union contracts going back several years. In total, 220 hours were billed to River Watch over about three months. Weinberger said preliminary 2022 data showed around 20,000 total hours of overtime. 

Of that, about 875 hours were for “extra duty for outside organizations,” according to the release. The terms of the police union’s current contract stipulate that “all extra duty contracts must be approved by the Police Chief or their designee and are limited in scope to be for special events and street construction,” and that the department’s “official duties … shall take precedence over all special events, private construction projects, or other outside employment,” Murad wrote.

The current union contract also states that, for all special events, officers should use department vehicles and uniforms.

Both Weinberger and Murad argued in the press release that the circumstances that led to the condo association asking for extra patrols reflects a poor sense of public safety in the city.

“Of much greater concern is that any neighborhood in the City feels that they need to pay out of pocket for basic public safety services,” Weinberger said in the release. “We need to get back to a place as soon as possible where we consistently have a strong public safety presence and the resources to provide an immediate response to any person who calls for police support as we have historically.”

Murad said in the release that the police department sends 25% of calls to online crime reporting, where residents are asked to submit a description of their complaint online. Another 25% of calls are handled by community service officers or community service liaisons. 

“That is, we send police to 50% fewer calls,” Murad said. “We are down about 60% of patrol staffing. It is these deficits, together with the attendant rise in some crimes, that creates a feeling that service is inadequate throughout the city as a whole.”

In response, Seguino said she thought the issue was “more complicated than that” but declined to address it further.

Police commission member Melo Grant said she was concerned about the River Watch patrols and accused Weinberger and Murad of “trying to deflect.” She said she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of the commission.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” said Grant, who is running for City Council as a Progressive in the Central District.

Grant said she was made aware of the extra duty at River Watch months ago, but she did not realize the arrangement was formalized in a contract. 

“I continue to be really concerned that the union is not making the best decisions in terms of improving their relationship with the community,” Grant said in an interview on Wednesday. “And this is just something else that people will start to resent when they think that the department is not there for them.”

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Patrick Crowley

About Patrick

Patrick Crowley is VTDigger's Burlington Reporter. Previously, he has worked for the Brattleboro Reformer and wrote as a freelance reporter in Ventura County, California. Patrick is a musician and volunteers as a firefighter and advanced EMT.


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