By Sam Daley
From petty theft all the way to homicide, crime has been at a 5 year high across the Burlington area. But what’s been causing this rise? And why is it so hard to fix?
In 2021, in response to national controversy and protest, Burlington cut funding to the police force by 30%. Crime has been on the rise since then, with fourteen gunfire incidents in 2021 and over twenty in 2022, as opposed to the old average reported incidents of two. Given this information, you would think the easiest solution would be to just revert that change and bring more money into the force, right? Well, no. That cut has since been reversed, but crime is still increasing. So what is the problem? It’s the same problem that has been affecting small businesses across the entire country since the start of the pandemic, the staffing shortage.
The funding cuts for the police reduced the maximum number of employed officers from around 100 to 74, but according to the New York Times, there are “61 officers in the force, but only 53 are actively deployed because of issues like injury or military service…” The NY times gets a little bit of data wrong here. They state that the maximum employed officers is 74, but when funding was reinstated the cap was returned back to 100. This means that just over half of the police force were supposed to have are currently employed, with some days only having 2 or 3 armed officers in the downtown area at a given time.
The force has been stretched so thin that they are not only having trouble dealing with the major spike in violent crime in the city, with over 10 times the old national average in gunfire incidents, but an officer says “…staffing cuts in the department made it difficult to pursue minor crimes…”(NY Times.) This quote was taken from an officer’s conversation with a woman whose bike was stolen not too long ago. In fact, bike theft has been a major problem amongst all people in Burlington, but especially UVM students. The New York Times states that “about 220 bikes, valued at $267,000, had been stolen in and around the city since June.” There have been incidents of people grinding bike racks off cars, breaking bike locks, and people have been seen just casually riding around on these stolen bikes. Some of the stolen bikes are ridden, and some are scrapped and presumably sold.
There is some data showing that Priority 1 911 calls, which consist of “…domestic assaults, shooting and other gunfire incidents… drug overdoses, suicides, and 911 hang-ups…” have a lower percentage that are affecting overall public safety, with the latter 3 options are not considered affecting safety of others. Drug overdoses and suicides have been happening much more often than in previous years with the pandemic’s effect on everyone’s mental health, and the total number of Priority 1 calls is still very high right now.
While crime rates have been much higher than previous years, Burlington was previously considered one of the lowest crime cities in the whole country. The city, even with the higher crime rates, is still relatively safe compared to other cities across America, however that does not mean it doesn’t come with its dangers. Burlington is still an amazing and beautiful city, but hopefully this data can help anyone who lives in Burlington or is traveling there, whether that be for just going to church street, living there, or going to UVM, remain vigilant and safe in these turbulent times.