The article has been automatically translated into English by Google Translate from Russian and has not been edited.
Переклад цього матеріалу українською мовою з російської було автоматично здійснено сервісом Google Translate, без подальшого редагування тексту.
Bu məqalə Google Translate servisi vasitəsi ilə avtomatik olaraq rus dilindən azərbaycan dilinə tərcümə olunmuşdur. Bundan sonra mətn redaktə edilməmişdir.

City in Vermont first cut police funding, and now pays extra for officers to stay

Following a wave of protests over the assassination of George Floyd, by the end of June 2020, the City Council of Burlington, Vermont, issued a resolution to tackle racial inequality in dealing with the police, declare racism a citywide crisis, and create more opportunities for non-whites. To fund the goals, the city has set a new cap on the number of officers in a department 30 percent lower than before. The money saved was used to increase the responses to calls to emergency services and social workers. What came of it, said the publication The Daily Beast.

Photo: Shutterstock

Burlington Business Association chief executive Kelly Divine said she was unsure of the plan and what would happen as a result. But she did not oppose it because, like most other residents of this historic "left" city, she says she wants to "do something" about police racism.

But Devine's mind had changed - and not just her.

In the 14 months since then, the Burlington Police Department has shrunk from about 90 officers when the order was passed to fewer than 70 today. This is in large part due to the fact that the police left for higher-paying jobs in other departments or retired earlier than expected, officials said. Devine, who said she herself spoke to many disgruntled police officers, advised some to leave the city due to increased control over the department, even though they faced heavy workloads.

In the midst of the departure, city leaders who championed the resolution say the police chief, the city mayor and police union leaders have launched a disinformation campaign to spark fears of crime. Along the way, the city, which seemed like a potentially powerful laboratory for a radical overhaul of the police service, practically stopped its reform project.

“This has sparked strong public reaction and protests about the need to increase the number of police officers,” said Jack Hanson, Burlington City Councilor.

Since the summer of 2020, cities like Minneapolis have dropped calls to abolish their police departments. Other cities, such as Atlanta, which pushed the idea of ​​transferring $ 70 million from the police, have changed course and sent more funds to departments.

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Devine, on the other hand, is convinced that the growing concerns of local residents about safety and crime in the usually tranquil oasis have a real basis, in particular, the city's decision to abandon the police.

“Why do people feel less secure in the city center? I would say with confidence that the refusal to fund the police department is a factor contributing to this, ”said Devine.

The FBI figures do show that the number of homicides in the country has skyrocketed over the past year. But locals who championed reforms in Burlington are confident the numbers are on their side.

“Very few communities seem to have followed this course even after a year,” Hanson said. “Last year was that important milestone when people realized that our systems were completely unsafe for blacks in this country. They have always been like this, and we have to do something about it. "

Regardless, the city took a step back towards its lofty goals: The council voted unanimously to allocate nearly $ 1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the police department and effectively wrote every remaining officer a check for $ 10.

Hanson acknowledged that the funds were needed to reassure residents, who reported feeling less secure, and to help boost morale in the ward. But he gave up on the idea of ​​retreat.

“We are not abandoning these changes,” he said. “At the same time, our goal is not just to destroy the department, but to create a really difficult situation.”

Hanson believes that discussions on reforms that once seemed to lag behind in the city have stalled thanks to the city’s efforts, which have always opposed the plan to cut funding.

“They consistently and aggressively promoted this version of an increase in crime, and the city became less secure,” Hanson said of the mayor, chief of police and the union.

Mayor's spokesman Miro Weinberger opposed the charges. She said that while the mayor did not support any plans to include fewer than 80 armed officers in the department, he supported police reform efforts in the city even before George Floyd's death.

“The administration denies any accusations of 'fanning fear,'” she said.

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The Burlington Police Association doubled down on its criticism of the police department, saying it created an "unmanageable and unresolvable retention crisis." The union also said a "real" plan to keep officers in the city would be "much more difficult than issuing a check."

In August, the union went so far as to accuse the city council of developing plans for 2020 without "scrutinizing" the implications, and said evidence of the "failed experiment" had become apparent in the "series of violent crimes" in the city and the number of officers leaving it.

Hanson and other leaders said such statements reduced police concerns to discussions about the number of officers, overshadowing the need for a larger reform project.

At the city council meeting, Zoraya Hightower, a black city councilor who led much of the debate around the rethinking of the police department, expressed concern that positions for unarmed officers who focused on the needs of the community had yet to be filled.

At the meeting, Mayor Weinberger and Acting Chief Murad said that while other efforts have progressed slowly, they would all have failed if there were no well-equipped police forces to support and train those in charge.

“In my opinion, it is clear that there is a consensus about these alternative resources, and we are trying to use them,” said Weinberger. "There is no scenario in which we do not need a significant number of officers for public safety."

According to Murad, by 2022, the department may lose 10 more officers, which will make their service only suffer. “We are losing officers at a rate that, frankly, is starting to jeopardize what we can do,” he stressed. "We can no longer provide the services that we had in the past."

Despite claims that the city is approaching a crisis, some local opponents argue that the reality is much less dire.

In a letter to Mayor Weinberger, Vermont ACLU General Counsel Jay Diaz called the government's focus on the alleged increase in crime "a disinformation campaign ... to instill fear, channel more police funds, and undermine the city's progress so far."

Diaz said officials are exaggerating crime statistics, deliberately misleading residents about the rise in crime and using the increased number of inflammatory press releases to exaggerate violent incidents in the city, as well as the need for more police officers.

According to an ACLU analysis, the number of police incidents between January and August has declined steadily since 2016, including an 18 percent reduction in the total number of incidents between 2020 and 2021. Violent crime did rise slightly last year, from 339 incidents in 2020 to 359 in 2021.

He believes that a more sober view of problems will lead to an increase in mental health needs, as well as lead to a more urgent use of resources.

It was noticeable that the mayor and the chief of police ignored real issues, such as the fact that blacks make up less than 6 percent of the population, even though they were overrepresented in arrests and the use of police force, he said. Blacks accounted for 2020 percent of all violent incidents in 31, according to the department. Until 2021, this percentage has not changed.

“There is only an element of institutional backlash here that we cannot deny,” Diaz said. “Predictable institutional response”.

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In his address, Diaz pointed to past city council meetings, at which Mayor Weinberger called the personnel issue a "crisis" and "a serious situation," and also announced an increase in the number of shooting incidents. Diaz explained that Murad's statements in the past required additional police resources to "stop crime."

Along with these statements, Diaz said, there were twice as many police press releases on crimes in the city, although crime overall did not increase.

In a 21 August report on reported no-kill shots, Murad pointed to an “alarming increase” in gun violence across the country, although he admitted that the Burlington shooting did not result in anyone being shot or killed.

In another post in the same month about a bullet hole found in an elementary school window, Murad noted that there were on average two shooting incidents in the city between 2012 and 2019, but in 2020 there were already a dozen.

Weinberger praised the officers involved in the investigation of "another shooting incident."

“This high level of shootings, which is a significant deviation from our norms, is unacceptable,” he said. “It is clear that we urgently need to return resources to the Police Department and fully invest in the public safety services that Burlington residents need.”

Despite reports of an increase in shooting incidents, Diaz said the conventional wisdom that the city is fighting crime is misleading when you look at the overall crime statistics for the year.

“The numbers are going down a lot,” he stressed. "It's hard to understand why the mayor and the chief of police don't talk about it as their great success."

In response, Weinberger noted that Diaz's analysis was "flawed" and that it did not take into account the significance of the recent shooting incidents. He said that Diaz was unable to "understand that there is a direct link between police investment and violent crime."

Devine acknowledged that fatal gunfire and injuries may not be common in Burlington. But she heard from business owners and local residents about concerns about an increase in intimidation and property crime in the community.

“These are not violent crimes, these are not people being killed on the street,” Devine said. "It looks like the bar for acceptable behavior has really changed."

She added that the vote to inject money back into the department was “the first sign that this fairly quick decision had unintended consequences, and we need to at least strengthen our security forces to get through the transition to any other system that we we're going to create. "

And while Hanson acknowledged that some of the changes the city and residents are demanding didn't make life easier for the police, he suggested that the way the officers view these changes was influenced by the leadership.

Murad took over as acting executive in early 2020 - after the previous boss, Brandon del Pozo, stepped down after confessing to creating an anonymous Twitter account, which he used as a fierce critic of the change.

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