Functional and Operational Assessment of Burlington Police Department Supports Raised Officer Cap and Expanded Public Safety Resources

Functional and Operational Assessment of Burlington Police Department Supports Raised Officer Cap and Expanded Public Safety Resources 

Assessment Supports Sworn Officer Cap of 85-88, Expanded Mental Health Resources, and a Strengthened Police Commission; Mayor Opposes Removal of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialists 

Burlington, VT – Today, the Joint Committee on Public Safety Transformation released the final Functional and Operational Assessment. The Assessment was conducted by the consultancy firm CNA, who began working with the City in March 2021. The Assessment includes 149 evidence-based findings and recommendations, with a focus on five areas: BPD training and operations, racial and socioeconomic bias analysis, staffing and workload analysis, specialized and alternative responses to policing, and an implementation roadmap.  

"This extensive document addresses many critical policing issues and I am hopeful that it will prove to be an important tool in developing consensus about the future of policing in Burlington and further improving our excellent and forward-thinking police department,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I am pleased to see that CNA affirms several priorities of the Administration, including restoring the number of  sworn officers to an effective and sufficient level as I have advocated for throughout the last year, and expanding alternative public safety resources.  I also appreciate that the report has brought attention to numerous additional opportunities to strengthen the department and transform public safety. I am grateful for the hard work of REIB Director Tyeastia Green and her Department for REIB’s management of this process, and I look forward to continued community engagement around the findings of this assessment.”  

1. Key findings Support the Administration’s Actions to Advance Police Transformation and Expand Public Safety Resources 

  1. CNA’s findings confirm that Burlington’s Police Department is currently understaffed and the Administration is justified in raising staffing concerns. 

  • CNA states “BPD is presently understaffed for its volume of calls for service and relies on an inefficient staffing model.” [pg. 60]  

  • CNA’s analysis found that in 2019, when BPD employed 96 sworn officers, the Department was appropriately staffed, stating that “patrol was staffed by 62 sworn police officers (1 deputy chief, 4 lieutenants, 7 sergeants, and 50 police officers). These 62 of the 96 sworn officers represent 64.2 percent of the sworn officers in the BPD. Accordingly, the department is about where it should be with the ratio of sworn officers dedicated to the patrol function in 2019.” [pg. 63] 

  • CNA stated “Because this assessment and analysis utilized 2019 staffing levels, it is not surprising, and perhaps justified if CFS [Call For Service] data in July 2021 are consistent with July 2019 data, that the “alarm bells” currently being rung by BPD are appropriate given higher summer CFS, paired with the reduction in staffing by 30 percent, along with the stated attrition that is occurring in the department and without alternative response programs presently in place to “pick up” the CFS that do not necessarily require police response." [pg. 69]  

  • More recent data does not suggest that demands on the BPD have lessened significantly since 2019. While the overall number of police incidents have declined (from 37,300 incidents in 2015 to 23,600 incidents in 2020) some high-priority incident types have increased since the pandemic, including: gunfire incidents, overdoses, and those requiring a mental health response. Comparing 18-month periods before and after March 13, 2020*;  

  • Gunfire incidents have increased more than 200 percent, from 6 to 23. 

  • Overdoses have increased 74 percent, from 97 to 169. 

  • Mental health incidents have increased 21.6 percent, from 1202 to 1462. 

  • The number of sworn officers has decreased from 96 in early 2019 to 68 today. 

  • Calls for service for crashes, intoxication, domestic assault, and retail theft decreased in the 18-months since March 13, 2020. 

 

2. CNA recommends restoring Officers to the range that the Mayor has been advocating for since the City Council’s action to reduce officers in 2020. 

  • The CNA report supports raising the authorized headcount to between 85 and 88 sworn-officers which accommodates attrition and officers assigned to Burlington International Airport (BIA), per these findings: 

  • “...it is recommended that the patrol function could be adequately staffed with 51 sworn officers assigned to patrol (1 deputy chief, 4 lieutenants, 6 sergeants, and 40 officers), with an overall department size of 72-75 sworn.” [pg. 60-61] 

  • “In order to account for naturally occurring attrition, largely the gap between training and onboarding new officers while other officers leave the department, our analysis indicates this number should be adjusted upward by five officers, with an authorized headcount of 77-80 sworn, with 72-75 deployable at all times.” [pg. 61]  

  • “There are presently 7 officers and 1 Sergeant deployed to BIA.  These officers would need to be added to the sworn headcount to continue to provide this contracted service.” [pg. 61] Thus, until and unless a change in airport police staffing is made - the report’s findings in combination mean that an authorized head count of 85-88 sworn officers is needed. 

  • Per item #5 of this memo below, the Mayor does not currently support the reductions of service that would be needed, per the CNA report, for an authorized headcount of less than 88. 

  • In his proposed FY 21 Budget Resolution the Mayor proposed sustaining 85-90 sworn officers until the completion of this assessment. 

  • The City Council, by a 7-5 vote, amended this resolution to reduce the authorized cap of officers to 74. 

  • The Mayor subsequently supported a City Council resolution to raise the authorized cap to 84 last January, and then the Police Commission proposal to raise the cap to 82 in August, both of which were rejected. 

 

3. CNA recommendations support expanding police oversight in a manner fully consistent with the Mayor’s proposal from December 2020 to amend the City Charter to strengthen the existing Police Commission. 

  • CNA finds that, “The City of Burlington should formalize the authority of the Police Commission, which should be greater than an advisory role, and clearly outline the reach of their responsibilities. As protocol, all relevant supporting case file materials (BWC, Use of Force reports, Interview statements etc.) should be reviewed by the police commission (or other community member oversight review board), which would be utilized to support the Chief's recommended disciplinary decision (or to make alternative recommendations to the Chief for consideration).  Ultimately, it is customary that the Chief makes the final disciplinary decision, however, full review of all supporting case file documents is important to increase transparency and provide important information that supports (or negates) the Chief's recommendation and ultimate decision.” [pg. 32] 

 

4. CNA supports several of the major BPD initiatives the Administration has recently launched or implemented, including the expansions to CSO and CSL positions, as formally presented by the Mayor and Acting Police Chief Murad to the City Council in January 2020. 

  • “Also recommended in the memorandum to the City Council, the Chief recommended increasing the number of Community Service Officers (CSO) assigned to the department...The chief should be commended for making this recommendation.” [pg. 84] 

  • “On May 24, 2021 the BPD issued a ‘Priority Response Plan’”...This is an excellent approach to managing CFS service demands, and the chief should be commended for this approach.” [pg. 85-86]  

  • Creating partnerships for 24-hour mental health and medical support embedded within the department. [pg. 92] The Mayor included $400,000 in the FY 22 budget to pilot such an initiative. 

  • CNA praised Burlington’s Use of Force Policy and recommends minor changes. Beginning today (October 1, 2020) a new state-wide Use of Force Policy recently passed in the Vermont State Legislature will now supersede Burlington’s policy. [pg. 8] 

 

5. The Mayor supports a robust process with the City Council to review all of the 149 recommendations by CNA in the weeks and months ahead, including:  

  • Redesigning and renegotiating the officer shifts from the current configuration. (Note: the Administration is unlikely to support the 12-hour shifts recommended by CNA.) 

  • Retaining officer disciplinary records for longer. [pg. 17] 

  • A community process to revise directives for how police interact with persons living with mental health conditions and disabilities. [pg. 96] 

  • New positions for a civilian analyst and one cross-designated sergeant to serve as Criminal Intelligence Officer. [pg. 79] (The City currently employs a Police Data Analyst in the Planning Department.) 

  • Expanding opportunities for proactive community engagement and one-on-one relationship building. [pg. 161] 

 

6. While the Administration is committed to a good faith review of all of the report’s recommendations with the City Council, CNA recommends considering some service reductions the Mayor currently does not support, including: 

  • The removal of the Department’s dedicated Domestic Violence Prevention Officer, which CNA says is “an excellent service”, but is the first sworn officer position that should be diffused when facing a 30 percent reduction [pg. 80].  

  • Reducing by two-thirds Burlington’s commitment to staff the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations (CUSI), a multi-agency task force that investigates reports of sexual assault, other serious sexual offenses, and serious child abuse and neglect in Chittenden County. [pg. 81]  

 

*Data comparing police incidents in 18-month periods before and after March 13, 2020 is from BPD’s internal tracking, and analysis was provided by the City of Burlington’s internal analysists. Police incident data is always available online through the City’s Open Data Portal

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Press Release Date: 
10/01/2021
City Department: 
Mayor's Office