I don’t know exactly what touched it off, but after nine-plus years as Burlington’s mayor, Miro Weinberger has suddenly turned into a gun-totin’ lawman.
His most recent eruption was the Friday afternoon newsdump that tossed Progressive city councilors under the nearest bus. Last Friday, just before the close of business, Weinberger’s office dropped a doozy — announcing that the search for a new police chief would be suspended until the Council agreed to significantly boost the salary on offer.
I’m not passing judgment on the substance of the announcement, but the timing. It couldn’t have been planned any better if the Mayor’s aim was to deliberately insult council progressives. Send the email blast, close the office for the weekend, go home and have a good chuckle over a glass of your favorite merlot.
This is only the latest in a series of pro-police, anti-“defund” moves by the mayor.
Remember back in early October, when Seven Days reported that Weinberger had asked for (and gotten) changes in an “independent” consultant’s report on BPD staffing. How did the changes affect the report’s message?
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.
Now, that’s the kind of independence that only money can buy.
A few days earlier, City Council approved a proposal heavily pushed by Weinberger to spend federal Covid relief money on bonuses for police: $10,000 for current officers and a $15,000 sign-on bonus for new recruits. How that relates to pandemic recovery I don’t know, but the feds gave states and cities wide latitude in spending the loot.
This ssummer was festooned with bemoanings from Weinberger and Acting Chief Jon Murad about out-of-control crime in the Queen City. Those claims prompted blowback from the Vermont ACLU, which called out Mayor and Chief for a “campaign of misinformation… designed to instill fear.”
The characterization of Burlington as an increasingly lawless place was largely debunked by a VTDigger story that looked at, you know, actual incidents of crime. There’s been an increase in gun violence from 2 in 2016 to 12 in 2021. But otherwise…
…overall crime has been trending downward for years in Burlington, including violent crime specifically — such as homicides, robberies and assaults.
The increase in gun violence is troubling, to be sure. But overall, Burlington is a safer place than it used to be. Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George said that to take the gun incidents as evidence that crime is out of control is “somewhat of a red herring.” She examined the 12 incidents and saw that most of them involved “a small group of people,” in Digger’s words. Policing that small group should be a matter of smartly targeted enforcement, not evidence that the department needs to be bigger and better-paid.
That hasn’t stopped Weinberger from waving the bloody flag. Or, to put it in one word, fearmongering. It’s a little odd; you’d think he’d welcome news that shines a favorable light on his tenure.
Instead, Weinberger is pushing a narrative — largely unsupported by the evidence — that a weakened police force has opened the door for rampant crime in Burlington.
One might have expected a Democratic mayor in a very liberal city to pay more than lip service to the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movements. But he doesn’t seem to want to go even that far. To the contrary, he’s cast his lot with the cops.
Postscript. Yes, I know my Photoshop skills suck. Dissatisfied patrons may request a full refund at the front office.