Burlington Police Commission to address off-duty BPD contract controversy

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 5:32 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A special Burlington Police Commission meeting Tuesday night will address community concerns over officers moonlighting. The revelations, as first reported by Seven Days last week, are that the BPD contracted for off-duty shifts for a private neighborhood association at the same time as officials blamed staffing shortages for their response to a spike in violent crimes.

According to the mayor’s office, the agreement began in early November. But as of January 17th, the contract ended and was not renewed. The mayor and some city councilors expressed concerns about officers taking this highly paid extra work at a time when the police department is dealing with on-duty staffing challenges.

Off-duty assignments contracted with private entities 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 are supposed to be for construction and special events, not an ongoing patrol, as per the Burlington Police Officer’s Association’s agreement.

“It does raise questions about uneven policing across the city and I don’t think that’s the way we want to police the city. I think we need to get back to a place where we have a sufficient police department to provide public safety services to the entire community, that’s my goal,” Weinberger said.

The mayor says that the contract with a neighborhood association on Riverside Avenue was not renewed and he does not believe they will be entering into similar contracts in the future. He says with the department still 25 officers under their target, he understands why city residents would want an extra level of policing, and stresses that this was not a significant number of hours for officers. “This Riverwatch contract was a total of about 130 hours, about 5% of the capacity of a new officer. I think that puts in perspective that the challenge we face right now is not with these off-duty contracts, it’s that we are so far down historically from where we need to be,” Weinberger said.

Earlier this month. Progressive city councilors released their public safety plan, which continues to stress the need to move away from traditional policing. Councilor Joe Magee, P-Ward 3, says he is appalled at the contract. “Department leadership was aware of this contract, they allowed it to go through. And in the same month that they did that, they came to the City Council and asked for resources to contract with the Vermont State Police to fill additional shifts to police the downtown,” he said. Magee says policing is not how we should be achieving public safety in our communities but rather addressing the root causes of issues surrounding the community. “I think the fact that it happened at all, shows that some serious changes need to happen in the department.”

Under the current rules, the Police Commission doesn’t have much authority to change what the department does or what contracts the BPOA undertake. They also are expected Tuesday to discuss the commission’s access to unredacted investigative reports.

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