Burlington Police Commission to address off-duty BPD contract controversy

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) — A special session of the Burlington Police Commission Tuesday night will address community concerns about undeclared work by officers. The revelations, first reported by Seven Days last week, say the BPD contracted an off-duty shift for a private neighborhood association while officials blamed understaffing for their response to a surge in violent crime.

According to the mayor’s office, the agreement began in early November. But on January 17, the contract ended and was not renewed. The mayor and some councilors have expressed concern that officers are taking on this high-paying extra work at a time when the police department is grappling with on-duty staffing issues.

Off-duty assignments completed with private agencies are commonplace in policing at one-off events such as the Vermont City Marathon or high school sporting events. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says these types of off-duty patrols should be for construction and special events, rather than an ongoing patrol, as per the Burlington Police Officer’s Association agreement.

“It raises questions about the unequal policing across the city and I don’t think we want to police the city like that. I think we need to go back to a place where we have a sufficient police force to provide public safety services to the entire community, that’s my goal,” Weinberger said.

The mayor says the contract with a neighborhood association on Riverside Avenue has not been renewed and he doesn’t think they will enter into similar contracts in the future. Saying the department is still 25 officers short of its target, he understands why townspeople would want an extra level of policing, stressing that that’s not a significant number of hours for officers. “This Riverwatch contract totaled about 130 hours, about 5% of a new officer’s capacity. I think that puts into perspective that the challenge we’re facing now isn’t in these off-duty contracts, it’s that historically we’re so far from where we need to be,” Weinberger said.

Earlier this month. Progressive councilors released their Public Safety Plan, which continues to emphasize the need to move away from traditional policing. Councilor Joe Magee, P-Ward 3, says he is appalled by the contract. “The department management knew about this contract, they let it go. And the same month they did that, they came to the city council and asked for resources to get a contract with the Vermont State Police to fill additional shifts to patrol downtown,” he said. According to Magee, we should not achieve public safety in our communities through policing, but rather address the root causes of problems in the community. “I think the fact that it happened at all shows that some serious changes need to be made in the department.”

Under current rules, the Police Commission does not have much power to change the operations of the department or the contracts of the BPOA. They are also expected to discuss the commission’s access to unedited investigative reports on Tuesday.

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