The "defund the police" movement in Burlington, Vermont, has failed so dramatically that even the progressive council member who initially pushed the effort now admits the city messed up, NBC News reported this week.
What are the details?
It's been nearly 18 months since the liberal northeastern city abruptly passed a resolution to slash its police force by 30%, remove resource officers from schools, shift police funding to social justice initiatives, and create a committee to review what institutions are actually needed to "build a healthy and safe community." Presumably, a traditional police force would not be part of the committee's conclusions.
The resolution was a quick response to the police killing of George Floyd intended to prevent police brutality against black residents while forging a new, more community-driven approach to public safety. Instead, it led to a mass exodus of officers and lower quality of life for the city's residents.
"Almost a year and a half later, no one, it seems, is happy. Not even the city councilor who proposed the resolution," NBC News stated after interviewing key officials involved in or affected by the effort.
“We’re in a situation that I think nobody wanted us to get to,” Councilor Zoraya Hightower, a member of the locally dominant Progressive Party, told the outlet. She acknowledged the effort has brought with it some "unintended consequences."
The upstart politician had been elected to the council only three months before, in a wave that gave progressives a plurality representation. Her resolution, rather than emerging from painstaking deliberation with fellow council members, was mostly copied and pasted from an activist group called the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.
The effects of the resolution were felt immediately. Rather than 30% of the police force leaving through attrition, as was intended, officers, feeling spurned by the city and underappreciated, left in droves.
Before the defunding, the 44,000-resident city had roughly 95 active-duty officers, but today there are only around 64, NBC News reported. The rapid decrease in numbers means that only about five officers are available to patrol at night, and overtime costs for the department have skyrocketed.
The department was forced to cut key positions, including an emergency response officer and a street crime team that investigated robberies and drug activity. Police response times also slowed significantly, leaving residents caught in less serious emergencies more vulnerable.
Business owners downtown complained to the outlet that staff no longer feels safe at night due to the lack of a police presence. Other residents feel that the quality of life in the city has deteriorated, as help for those suffering from mental health issues has vanished.
Though crime data for the last year has yet to be released by the FBI, many believe criminal activity has risen, especially burglary, vehicle thefts, and drug abuses. Besides, even if crime data eventually shows incidents are down, it could be that the smaller police force has simply not been able to keep up.
The city's Democratic mayor, Miro Weinberger, who didn’t support cutting the force, told NBC, “There’s a lot of damage that has been done in the last 16 months."
Despite complaints from the public, in August, the council once again rejected a measure to raise the hiring cap for police officers. Instead, they approved a measure to hire "community support liaisons," or social workers, to help support police efforts. But that didn't help either.
Then in September, the council backtracked on its efforts, offering to pay officers handsomely to convince them to stay and ward off the exodus. But the damage had largely been done.
Here's the full segment that aired on NBC News:
Inside Vermont’s Police Reform Effort www.youtube.com