A policing year in review shows static incident rates in 2018, according to South Burlington Police Department Chief Shawn Burke. Recent data reveals the department responded to about 14,000 incidents last year, which is commensurate with totals from the previous two years.
Traffic stops topped the list with 6,373 incidents between November 2016-18, while “agency assists” followed. Those responses include everything from directing vehicles at a broken traffic light, to check-ins with families on behalf of the Department for Children and Families.
Crime was low on the list with 839 arrests last year and 1,478 over the previous two years combined. Top arrests over the timespan included: retail theft, driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence, violation of conditions of release and unlawful trespass.
“There’s not a lot of crime in city policing,” Burke said, adding it’s not unusual for service work to comprise the bulk of urban police efforts. Police aid residents with a slew of social services including mental health calls and serving local schools.
The department’s third and fourth most frequent calls, respectively, were alarm responses and suspicious events – which include resident reports of odd noises, nighttime loiterers and other unusual activity.
The majority of incidents occur on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to Burke. Frequently, midday sees stacked calls in which demand for police response is greater than the number of available officers. The department must prioritize incidents until officers are free to respond to the complete list of calls.
South Burlington Police data also revealed the University Mall as a local “hotspot” for police response. The mall alone accounts for about 5 percent of the city’s annual calls.
“I did find that somewhat interesting,” Burke said, adding it’s likely the high volume is due to professional loss prevention at stores like Target. Security guards there identify, apprehend and report thieves to South Burlington Police.
Many of the thefts, Burke said, are committed by people who are addicted to drugs and hoping to barter goods to feed their habit.
“Hands down, the number one public health crisis in the country is the opiate epidemic,” he continued. “[But] amidst this opiate crisis, our reported number of overdoses are down.”
Burke partially attributes this to a “good saturation” of Narcan – a drug that is administered to counteract an opioid overdose. But the exact reason for the decline is hard to measure, he said.
Mental health has been another significant call driver at the South Burlington Police Department, but corresponding data is difficult to separate, according to Burke. Nonetheless, he’s grateful for the Howard Center’s community outreach workers who aid local officers’ response to individuals in crisis.
“What the community outreach team provides is really, really remarkable,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to try to police without it given the mental health crisis that we’re faced with.”
The past year also saw the department refining its policies and increasing recruitment efforts to fill personnel vacancies.
The policy review included efforts to bolster training for domestic violence cases. Last May, South Burlington resident “Anette” Anako Lumumba was killed in what was reported as an act of domestic violence.
The new policy entails a victim-centric approach, with South Burlington officers examining ways to empower victims, as well as using the state’s lethality assessment – to gauge the victim’s risk level – at every step of an investigation.
“Through training and better policy (our officers) are understanding that it’s not about the call that you’re at, it’s about all the family dynamics that have led up to that call,” Burke said.
Since July 1, 2018, the South Burlington Police Department has brought on six new members –including Burke. The hires are in keeping with retirements and bring the staff to 20 patrol officers and the full force to 39 members – with another officer hired for this July and several other prospects in the background/investigation phase. Fully filled, the department employs 44 people in its ranks – from patrol to chief. Burke would like to see the department reach that total, possibly within the next 18 months.
“The beauty of this police organization is we’re the second largest in the state,” he said. “We have all the divisions and opportunities that an officer may aspire to hold in a career.”