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Burlington Mayor Expected To Announce Cuts In Police Budget

The outside of a police station.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
After public demands for police reform, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said Wednesday he would propose cuts to the city's police department's budget.

The mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, is expected to announce cuts to the city’s police department budget on Monday.

Mayor Miro Weinberger’s announcement came after a massive public outcry earlier in the week. Two city boards heard hours of testimony from community members and activists calling on city leaders to overhaul the police department, including cutting 30% of the agency’s uniformed officers.

Criticism of American policing has intensified across the county after four officers in Minneapolis were charged with the killing of George Floyd. Those calls have taken various forms from completely abolishing police departments to reallocating police budgets to fund more social services.

In some cities, political leaders are appear to be embracing varying degrees of reform.

In Minneapolis, the city council has pledged to begin dismantling the police department. Meanwhile the mayor of New York vowed to cut the police department’s budgetand in Boston, Mayor Marty Walshpromised to transfer 20% of the city police’s overtime budget into social service.

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On Wednesday, Weinberger said he wouldn’t call for a dismantling of the Burlington Police Department, but based on the public input, he was reworking the police budget.

“Will there be cuts? Yes, on Monday is when I’ll be able to share the full extent of those,” he said.

The Burlington Police Department has steadily increased throughout the years, though it consistently accounted for about 22% of the city’s budget, the largest share of any city department. In the most recent fiscal year, the department’s budget was more than $17 million.

Other city departments, like the fire department and parks and recreation, have also seen their budgets increase over the years.

The Burlington Police officer’s union has pushed back on the calls for reducing the size of the department. In a written statement, the union said that without a plan to reduce police calls for service, “any reduction in the size of the Burlington Police Department will make Burlingtonians less safe.”

The city council will ultimately need to approve the budget.

City councilor Zoraya Hightower, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said she supports developing a policy that would reduce the size of the city’s police force.

“And then replacing it not just with social workers, but really a variety of people who would be seen as … less traditional than uniformed officers,” Hightower said.

While the council will have to work through the details of the mayor's proposal, city councilor Brian Pine said he thinks that most of the council wants to find a way to reallocate some of the department's funds.

"I believe we will reach consensus that it's a time to shift those resrouces," he said. "I think the majority of the council and the mayor, I think, will get there."

On mobile? Click here to see infographic.

City councilor Ali Dieng said the larger task for city leaders is redefining what policing looks like.

“Should we have professionals that have training, specific to handling mental health issues?” he said. “Should we also have officers that have deep training around domestic violence, should we have others that treat homelessness?”

Mayor Miro Weinberger will submit his budget recommendations to the Burlington City Councilduring a meeting that begins at 7 p.m. Monday.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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