A Vermont City Cut The Police Budget. Now People Won’t Speak Out For Fear Of Being Called A ‘Racist.’

Last year, Burlington, Vermont, cut its police budget by nearly 30% through attrition. Now, people are afraid to speak up because they know they’ll be called a “racist.”

It’s been more than a year and a half since the city cut its police budget, and now even the city council r who proposed the cut is unhappy with the consequences.

“We’re in a situation that I think nobody wanted us to get to,” Burlington Councilor Zoraya Hightower told NBC News. Hightower, a member of the local Progressive Party, introduced the resolution in June 2020, though some of it was written by the activist group Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. Hightower had been in her position just three months when she proposed the resolution. During that time, major cities across the country erupted into violent riots following the death of George Floyd by ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of Floyd’s murder.

The alliance on June 12, 2020 “published a letter to the City Council on its website, demanding an apology and reparations for Burlington’s role in chattel slavery and a restructuring of public safety, including, among other steps, an immediate 30 percent reduction in the number of police officers,” NBC reported. Hightower included some of these proposals in her resolution, which also included ending the school resource officer program and giving the reduced funds to social and racial justice causes.

The move to slash the police budget, however, has led city leaders, as NBC reported, “to reckon with the unintended consequences of that decision, including problems with public safety and quality of life, police and residents say.”

Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat who didn’t support the cuts to the police department, told the outlet “There’s a lot of damage that has been done in the last 16 months.”

From NBC:

Historically, the city’s property crime rate has been slightly higher than the national average, but the violent crime rate has been lower. The overall number of incidents, meaning calls that bring police responses, has decreased every year since 2016, and the number of high-priority incidents, including violent crimes, makes up less than 10 percent of the total. Before defunding and Covid, officers spent a little over half their time on quality-of-life issues, such as noise complaints and intoxication.

The unintended consequences of the resolution apparently showed up quickly, NBC reported. The council thought attrition would take years, but it was completed in months, leaving the police department understaffed. Police officers left en masse, leaving only about five to patrol at night. The police have had to shift focus to high-priority crimes and less on quality of life issues. Burglary, vehicle theft, mental health issues, and overdoses all increased with fewer cops on patrol. On the whole, the Burlington Police Department logged 11% fewer incidents in 2021 than 2020, but it is unclear whether this is due to less crime or fewer police being able to respond.

“The exit interviews have been pretty clear that it was about a lack of support in a political sense,” Police Chief Jon Murad told the outlet. “And a sense of saying: ‘This is not how I want to serve anymore. I don’t feel valued.’”

Local business owner Mark Bouchett told NBC that people were afraid to speak out about the problems that have arisen due to the reduced police force.

“If you speak out against defunding the police force, you’re labeled a racist,” he told NBC. “Or at least an idiot that doesn’t understand the problem.”

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