Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger convinced an independent consultant to make several changes to its report on the city’s police force before the document was publicly released Friday, including a recommendation to hike the department's roster cap.
The draft version of CNA’s report recommended the city have between 76 and 83 deployable officers, including those assigned to the Burlington International Airport. The final version, however, considers airport staffing separately. It recommends a force of between 72 and 75 deployable officers, with a roster of 77 to 80 “to account for naturally occurring attrition.”
The consultants made the changes after both Weinberger and acting Police Chief Jon Murad sent letters requesting clarifications to the draft report.
For Weinberger, the final report validates his push to hire more officers after the Progressive-led city council voted last summer to cut the force by 30 percent through attrition. The council has twice rejected requests to raise the cap.
“I actually see the report as very affirming of the administration's positions on the major debates of the last year,” Weinberger said Friday. “It's quite clear that this report is recommending an increase in the officer cap to somewhere between 85 and 88.”
The report does say that the cap could be as high as 88 if the department continues to use eight officers at the airport. But the document also says that the staffing level at BTV can shrink if Burlington police keep the airport beat. Those officers “should not be factored into the overall staffing headcount,” the report said, because they can’t respond to calls away from the airport.
As Seven Days reported earlier this month, the CNA draft said four officers should be assigned to the airport, the minimum number written into the city's current contract with the Burlington Police Officers’ Association. The final version suggests that there could be fewer officers at BTV, noting that the airport headcount was “inappropriately negotiated” into the union contract.
Law enforcement at BTV, CNA wrote, “should be a distinct operational decision with dedicated officers negotiated annually” with the airport, not the police union.
While the union contract gives Burlington cops exclusive rights to police the airport, the report says, the city could choose to hire another agency. If the city does decide to keep Burlington cops at BTV — an arrangement Weinberger said he supports — it could consider reducing the number of officers assigned there, the report says.
Burlington airport officials told researchers that “BPD could perhaps reduce officers from 8 down to 7 or 6 if needed” if the department keeps its current 10-hour shift. CNA has suggested a 12-hour shift for officers, which could allow for a “possible reduction” in staffing numbers.
A former airport commissioner, Weinberger said the city has already explored airport staffing, which is dictated by federal regulations. Still, he said he’s open to discussing the issue further, along with CNA’s other 148 recommendations.
"They are raising the possibility ... that maybe there is a way to do it with one or two less officers. The impact of that, if that's accurate, would be the airport would spend a little bit less money paying for those officers," Weinberger said. "Then the cap could come down by one or two, but it really is a separate conversation."
Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) served on a joint committee of councilors and police commissioners that hired CNA. To her, the report recommended that there should be no more than four officers at the airport, which would give a combined officer headcount of between 81 and 84.
Hightower conceded that councilors may have “overshot the reduction” when capping the department at 74. But she said that vote led to discussions about public safety alternatives, such as hiring unarmed civilians to respond to non-emergency calls and to help residents experiencing mental health crises — two things CNA researchers supported in their report.
“I think the only thing we can do is try to move forward together a little bit more collectively,” Hightower said.
Her colleague, City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), was less enthusiastic. He said he doesn’t think the report validates Weinberger’s position on police reform, which Tracy characterized as being too focused on the police cap. The council president said he looks forward to discussing the report’s other recommendations, which include bolstering civilian oversight and addressing racial disparities in policing, the latter of which “continues to not get enough attention.”
“We need to look at our public safety system and changes to that system holistically and not necessarily look at this cap issue as we have been looking at it in isolation,” Tracy added.
Tracy also said Weinberger and Murad shouldn’t have sought to change the report before it was made public. “They should have let CNA make their recommendations, and if they have a critique of those recommendations, to do so after it's publicly released,” he said.
Weinberger’s four-page letter to CNA asked for more than a dozen “clarifications,” ranging from a request to fix a section that mistakenly referred to Burlington, N.C., to one that asked for a more robust analysis of police oversight options.
Regarding police staffing, Weinberger said the cap should be raised to account for officers on medical or military leave, and the time it takes to fill vacancies. The actual department headcount, the mayor wrote, has historically been “between 5 and 6 officers lower than the authorized cap," which means the cap should be higher "to achieve the recommended range.”
CNA took that suggestion but wasn’t willing to make other changes without additional compensation. The team estimated that Weinberger’s requests would take 200 more hours of work, for which consultants would need to be paid an additional $40,150. The original contract was worth $100,000.
That estimate didn’t include the work needed to respond to clarifications Murad requested in a 19-page letter of his own that he sent to CNA on September 21.
Murad questioned CNA’s staffing analysis, including its recommendation that the department switch from 10- to 12-hour shifts. In response, CNA wrote that while Murad "may disagree with some of the analyses," it stands by its findings.
Murad's letter also apologizes for “not properly and promptly ” sharing several documents that the CNA team had requested for its review, including traffic data and information about officer training protocols. The letter, however, does not explain why he didn't provide them on time.
Murad also asked for a spelling change on page 109 of the report.
"'Creamy with a Cop,'" Murad wrote. "In Vermont it’s spelled 'creemee' and it may be silly but getting it right is honestly a big deal to Vermonters."
CNA, which is based in Virginia, made the change in its final report.
Correction, October 2, 2021: An earlier version of this story misinterpreted the consultants' recommendations for airport staffing. It has also been updated to clarify the overall staffing recommendations in the report.