Vermont city council backs 30% police cut through attrition

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The city council in Vermont’s largest city has approved a resolution backing the reduction of the police force by 30% through attrition amid calls in Burlington and nationwide for racial justice and to defund police.

The Burlington City Council approved the Racial Justice Resolution early Tuesday by a vote of 9-3. The resolution declares that racism is a citywide public health crisis. It calls for the number of officers to be reduced to 74 by not filling current or upcoming vacant positions.

The resolution says the money from the reduction would be used to reduce the demand for police through social services, racial and social justice and economic justice initiatives.

The city council again heard from the public for nearly two hours Monday night, including many supporters and members of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, which pushed for a 30% reduction.

Burlington is more diverse than most other parts of largely white Vermont. According to the U.S. Census, the city is 85% white, 5% Black or African American, 6 % Asian, and nearly 3% Hispanic or Latino.

Mark Hughes, co-founder and executive director of Justice for All VT, told the city council that what they are considering is historic.

“When you make your decisions just understand that this is that precipice in history, O.K., this is that time, this is your moment, this is your defining moment. So now you’re going ... to decide which side of history that you’re on,” he said.

Several callers urged the city council not to pass the resolution, with former city councilor Kurt Wright recommending that outside experts would be needed to evaluate the size of the police force not the city council.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance later called passage of the resolution “a small step in the direction of justice.”

The alliance has developed a mission called Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E, which stands for restructuring public safety, implementing cultural empowerment, securing equal opportunity and expanding racial equity, inclusion and belonging.

The council is expected to take up the mayor’s proposed budget, including the police budget, on Tuesday night.