As the Burlington Police Department mulls cutting its night shift, leaving residents to seek out state police during late hours, the head of the Vermont Police Coalition says City Council was too hasty in its decision to cut police personnel earlier in the year.
“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Vermont Police Coalition director Mike Hall, a retired police chief from Manchester, told True North.
“You know what I find interesting is now they are saying that they wish they had better communications with the police department, you know, back when they were making this decision. I think that just speaks to the fact that this was a decision made more based upon their personal preference and ideas rather than operational concerns,” he said.
The nationwide movement to defund police began soon after the death of George Floyd, a suspect apprehended by Minneapolis police in May. Burlington activists for defunding have seized upon three highly publicized use-of-force incidents in 2018 and 2019, two involving injuries to black men and another involving the death of a white man.
Amid this atmosphere, the Burlington City Council on June 30 voted to reduce its overall police force by 30 percent, capping officers at 74, down from the prior cap of 105.
Hall says that decision was made in haste.
“If it had been based on operational concerns, and not just a knee-jerk reaction because they just don’t like police, period, then you know they would have realized this was something that just wasn’t feasible and couldn’t be done,” Hall said.
Hall noted that crime is now going up in the Burlington area.
“And Burlington has issues, as we see every day. Major crime is up there,” he said. “It’s becoming the Chicago-aspect of Vermont in so far as it’s a poor representation of the safety that this state is known for.
“And you know, for them to be doing this, it’s going to be costly in the end — more than likely in the lives of the safety of the people involved up there.”
According to the Women’s Self-Defense Institute, cuts to police response time may have a greater negative impact on poor neighborhoods than wealthy ones.
“The Department of Justice, with their statistical prowess, reports that the best response time is 4 minutes and the worst over 1 hour,” Angie Tarighi, head of the institute, writes. “Interpretation? If you live in an upper-income area you probably are privy to the 4 minute response time, while middle to rural areas will see a much longer response time.”
Asking local residents to rely on the Vermont State Police late at night may be tricky. In July 2018, Lt. Steve Coote, director of recruiting and training for the Vermont State Police, told the Woodbury Selectboard that they — even two years ago — were having serious staffing problems.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a Vermont State Police problem; I would say it’s recruiting and staffing levels nationwide,” Coote said. “If you look anywhere, things have been difficult in law enforcement in the last five years.”
Hall said some critics of police have suggested the proposal by police to cut night shifts is a fear-tactic done in protest of the severe budget cuts.
“It’s not a fear tactic,” Hall said. “It’s a factual matter that the police are telling them that they aren’t going to be able to respond. You know, these folks just don’t get it, and more importantly they don’t want to get it.”
Hall noted that unarmed social workers are not going to be ready to help the average late-night call, when the potential danger for violence is much higher than calls during the day. He said armed police don’t always get it right, but most of the time they do, and he says they should get more credit for it.
“Any call that comes in after about 11 p.m. to about 5 a.m. in the morning is generally something serious or something that’s going to need some special attention,” he said. “And to suggest that you could send unarmed people to those kinds of situations is ludicrous and it’s dangerous, and quite frankly it’s stupid.”