Defund the police comes to Burlington, Vermont

Source: Hot Air

Once in a while you read a story that is such a perfect encapsulation of an idea that it really ought to be a movie or maybe just a Twilight Zone episode. This is one of those stories.

Consider if you will the city of Burlington, Vermont population 44,781. Burlington is a beautiful place where Bernie Sanders got his start in politics and where even the ice cream is progressive (Ben and Jerry’s). Until very recently, crime was barely an issue in Burlington. Most years there was not a single incident involving gunfire and the mostly white, very progressive populace invested in a park at the center of the city which they dedicated to people they lost during the pandemic. But lately something has changed. All around the city, people’s bicycles started to disappear. Not just a few but hundreds of them missing from porches and backyards.

Burlington residents launched a Facebook group called “BVT Stolen Bike Report and Recovery.” About 4 percent of the city’s population joined the group, but as they began looking into the thefts, the found an undercurrent of darkness in their community.

In the effort to try to solve the crime of bike theft themselves, the group’s members have come close to a world of violence and despair that lurks barely below the surface of this beautiful place and, at times, bursts into the open. In some years, Burlington has gone without a single gunfire incident, according to the police. But in 2022 there have been 25 such incidents, including four murders — the most in at least 30 years, the police say.

“It has been traumatizing,” said Ms. Williams, “to watch the city kind of fall apart before your eyes.”

How did this happen? Burlington had a cap of about 100 police officers in 2020 but after the death of George Floyd the progressives on the city council decided to reduce that by about 30%. They planned to defund the police gradually through attrition. But this is one case where they overdelivered.

Soon after the City Council passed its policing measure in June 2020, many officers left the force. Some went to work in other police departments. One now works in health care. Another is selling rabbits.

Chief Murad, a Vermont native, said that, in their exit interviews, the departing officers told him that they did not feel “valued” by the community after the vote to reduce the department’s size.

There are now 61 officers on the force, but only 53 are actively deployed because of issues like injuries and military service. It is far below the cap of 74 that the council originally set.

Burlington’s police chief went to Harvard and is committed to police reform. But he says the current staffing level is a problem. During some parts of the day there are only two officers on patrol in all of downtown. He doesn’t know what is causing the increase in bike thefts but he notes that dealing with it could be a challenge thanks to a memo put out be local prosecutors that says in order to convict someone you have to prove they “actually knew” the items in their possession were stolen.

In short, if you don’t catch them in the act of stealing, you probably can’t get a conviction. If you do catch someone with a stolen bike, they can just lie and the police will do nothing because they are badly understaffed.

A group of residents put GPS trackers on a couple bikes and locked them up downtown. Sure enough they were stolen and moved around all night only to wind up in the newly refurbished park at the center of the city. The group called the police who were willing to go retrieve the bike.

As Ms. Williams tagged along, the officer walked up to a group of people standing next to the bike and asked whether it belonged to anyone.

“Nope,” one of the people said.

“Perfect,” Ms. Williams remembered the officer saying.

Nothing happened to the thieves. No arrests. Not even a cursory investigation. It’s a perfect situation if you’re someone who wants to steal $1,000 bikes and sell them for drugs or cash to buy drugs. Meanwhile, some of the members of the Burlington bike recovery group are getting some pretty wild ideas.

“I know this may sound radical, but we all agree that theft is not OK,” said Bryce Turner, 27, a group member who manages a local bar…

Mr. Turner and the others in the group say they believe the bikes that end up in the park are being sold in exchange for drugs.

“It’s an open-air drug and bike market,” he said of the park.

So why hasn’t this happened before in Burlington? Additional police is definitely part of the story but the author suggests there’s another problem. The drug of choice for a lot of the homeless bike thieves in the city is now meth. Meth makes people unstable and in some cases they may not be stealing for drugs but just for the thrill of it.

So you have a new drug on the streets and fewer officers to deal with the problems. It’s a bad combination which the progressive residents of Burlington aren’t used to dealing with. But some of the readers can see the problem.

Defund police departments and crime goes up. Does that surprise anyone? No. But the real problem isn’t the lack of police but of the tolerance of drug addled transients. They know full well if they get arrested they’ll just be out the next day. They’ll never pay a fine and never do more time. There are no consequences whatsoever. That’s the real problem.

A reader from Vermont:

An important factor to understand is how police departments are staffed. Originally at roughly 95 in 2018, that was made up of 50 patrol officers and then 45 supervisors, detectives, domestic violence officers, etc. All most all of the police leaving have come from patrol officers. Now at about 60 total, only 15 are patrol officers, so it’s actually a 70% drop from 50 to 15.
This is fairly typical across the country – when you hear of departments being down such and such, the impact is actually far far greater than immediately apparent.

Lots more reactions like these but this reader just says what the Times only insinuates.

Read this article carefully and the take away is the citizens are effectively resorting to vigilantism to solve the bike theft problem. Sure, they are not physically harming anyone now, but it is clear if the police will not or cannot protect lives and property -in this case property – people will take matters into their own hands. If you think this is better than effective law enforcement, think again.

It would be great if the article was a little more blunt about defunding the police being a terrible idea but it’s there if you read between the lines.