Now Comes ACLU-VT, Shootin’ Fire

This summer, we’ve been treated to lamentations by official Burlington — and wildly outlandish claims from rural conservatives — about the onslaught of violent crime that threatens the peace and tranquility of the Queen City (group A) or has turned Burlington into a lawless hellhole (group B).

Well, the ACLU of Vermont is calling bullshit. In a thorough and well-researched letter to Mayor Miro, ACLU-VT’s general counsel Jay Diaz demolishes the lamentations and presents a strong case for the idea that actually, Burlington is a lot safer than it was a few years ago despite the shrinkage in the Police Department.

Man, the facts can be so inconvenient, can’t they?

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights.

  • According to the BPD’s own statistics, criminal activity (including violent crime) has dropped by nearly half in the last five years. Specifically, Diaz measured January through August totals for each year because that’s all we’ve got for 2021 so far, and 2021 is when crime has supposedly spiraled out of control. In the first eight months of 2016, police incidents totaled 26,000. In the first eight months of this year, that number is 14,000.
  • Diaz accuses Weinberger and Murad of “deploying exaggerated, speculative, and misleading political rhetoric while ignoring BPD’s own data,” and calls on them to cut it out.
  • Diaz addresses 2021’s outbreak (by Burlington standards) of gun-related incidents, which would be a stunningly small number in most any other city. He notes that there is no established correlation between downsizing or upsizing a police force and violent crime.
  • Many of those gun-related incidents involve the same small group of people, some of whom are already in custody.
  • The real crisis in Burlington (and across Vermont) is in mental health and substance use. For example, year-to-date mental health incidents have climbed by 30% in the last four years-to-date. Overdoses have nearly tripled between 2019 and 2021. The answer to both of these problems, he argues, is not more police, it’s more social services.
  • The scary rhetoric threatens the progress made in evolving the city’s response to crime from a police-based model to a broader-based, all-encompassing system.

For any media outlet reporting on this issue, I’d suggest taking a thorough look at the evidence instead of taking dictation from top officials. I’d specifically suggest a review of the 12 incidents of gun violence in Burlington in the last year (according to WCAX-TV). That would provide a lot of clarity into the actual situation.

Maybe there are two sides to this story, but Diaz makes a very convincing case. I hope his letter doesn’t go straight to the circular file.

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