Acting Police Chief Jon Murad discusses a plan to increase public safety in downtown Burlington in May. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — The Burlington City Council voted late Monday to ratify a three-year contract with the union that represents the city’s police force, signing a 20% base pay raise over the term of the contract. contract.

The agreement with the Burlington Police Officers’ Association also addresses issues of police oversight and accountability, in part by extending the length of time the city can retain disciplinary records and increasing the Police Commission’s role in the disciplinary process.

He replaces a four-year contract that expired on June 30 and, according to a Monday evening press release by Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger, builds on the $1.2 million “reconstruction plan” that the board approved last month.

Councilors approved the contract by a 10-to-1 vote, with Perri Freeman, P-Central District, voting against. Ali House, P-Ward 8, was absent.

“There are just a few points that don’t meet the threshold for…some of the main things that I was particularly concerned about,” Freeman said ahead of the vote.

In Monday’s press release, Weinberger hailed the contract as “a major step forward for the community at a time when we face serious public safety concerns and an urgent need to rebuild the Burlington Police Department.” This comes amid a series of gunfire incidents in the city and as the department struggles with high attrition and depleted ranks.

Progressives were more muted in their support. Advisor Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, called the contract “just one piece of the transformation we need to make.” He and advisers Joe Magee, P-Ward 3, and Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1, openly expressed their disappointment with the contract, calling it a necessary compromise.

The 20% three-year salary increase includes a 12% increase in fiscal year 2023. Weinberger’s office said in the press release that the increase puts Burlington “in a very competitive position against to other Vermont police departments, including the state police.” to attract and retain members of his force.

Supporters of police reform won extensions to how long the city can keep disciplinary records. Under the contract, records regarding use of force violations and other serious policy violations may be permanently retained by the department. Records of suspensions will be kept for four years. Letters of reprimand and other disciplinary records without suspension will be retained for two years.

In addition, according to Weinberger’s office, the contract allows for changes to the disciplinary interview process to be “consistent with best practices of advocates for police oversight”, clarity and improved access for police and mayor’s commission on record during malpractice investigations and to codify that the police commission can play both an advisory role to the chief prior to the issuance of a disciplinary decision and serve as a regulatory body call.

New contract provisions also prevent the city from hiring officers who have been terminated for disciplinary reasons by other law enforcement agencies.

It is the first contractual agreement since the council reduced the force by 30% two years ago, from a cap of 105 officers to 72, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and public pressure to “defund the police” and reallocate city funds to more social services. The board raised the cap to 87 last October.

The Burlington Police Department currently has 62 sworn officers, up from 66 in May, according to Acting Chief Jon Murad, but only “52 actual officers” who can actually serve, 22 of whom are on patrol. (Others are unable to serve for reasons such as military deployment and medical leave.)

At a news conference earlier Monday afternoon in response to a shooting that left two people dead and one seriously injured, Murad called his current police force “maximized” by the amount of investigative work on his limited personnel, noting that the city experienced 18 gunshots. incidents since the beginning of the year.

“And we put equal effort into every one of them, whether there’s a homicide involved, whether there’s people being beaten up and whether we have a shooting or whether there’s nothing but the idea that firearms were unloaded and recovered from casings,” Murad said. “Each of these requires documentation and requires investigation. … So it’s an unimaginable volume of work compared to what we have known in the past. So “maximized” is frankly an inadequate understatement.

The number of officers in the force was a major concern for Shimmy Cohen, who previously lived in Burlington for more than three decades and was at the scene of the shooting Monday.

“It bothers me that progressives in Burlington have cut funding to the police department,” said Cohen, a longtime employee of Boucher & Pritchard Funeral Home near the site of the former North End shooting. “We need more cops – they just don’t seem to have the respect or care of the police, until something happens on their property.”

According national reportsincreased public demand for police accountability and the confrontation of racial bias on police forces across the country has led to an influx of retirements and the inability to attract potential new officers, which has diminished the morale of the remaining agents.

A summer 2021 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum looked at nearly 200 departments and found a 45% increase in retirements and nearly 20% increase in resignations in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20.

An assessment of the Burlington Police Department last fall, conducted by CNA Consulting, identified various shortcomings, including understaffing, insufficient training and evidence of racial bias. According to Seven Daysthe CNA found that the previous collective agreement was one of the reasons for the departmental defaults.

In an effort to recruit more officers, the city council last month authorized the use of $270,000 for officer signing bonuses and an additional $150,000 for incentives such as housing, education and help with childcare.

Other recently ratified city contracts

The police contract is the latest of several recently ratified by the city.

Last week, the council unanimously signed a new contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, raising salaries by 18% over four years.

The four-year contract makes Burlington the first municipality in Vermont to offer paid family leave to its employees – starting with four weeks of 100% pay, effective immediately, and phasing in an additional eight weeks of 60% leave. of remuneration.

The contract covers employees of several city entities, such as Burlington City Arts and the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, but according to Weinberger’s office, paid leave would be extended to more than 400 city ​​employees.

The city council also ratified a four-year contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on June 27, negotiating an 18% base salary increase over the term of the contract. According to Weinberger’s office, the city is working to secure a contract with the last of its four unions, the Burlington Firefighters Association.

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