BURLINGTON, VT — Nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd, cities around the country were prompted to take a closer look at police budgets.
Some called the movement "Defund the Police." Others just said it was long overdue for more oversight and accountability. Many cities made little to no policy changes.
Burlington, Vermont did it
"We did, yes," City councilman Jack Hanson said.
After the protests and the outcry following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the police here were told they needed to cut around 30 positions, a 30% cut.
“As people would leave, we just wouldn't replace them," Hanson said of the 2020 plan.
This small, liberal-leaning city in the Northeast can give a unique perspective on how the police funding debate in our country is going.
How is it going?
"It's been mixed," Hanson said.
The acting police chief said that in the years following, many officers have either retired or decided to work elsewhere. Recruitment has been challenging.
Today, only around 60 officers are able to respond to calls — that’s around 20 short of what independent studies show this town needs.
"Gun incidents are up, burglaries," said Kelly DeVine, the CEO of the Burlington Business Association.
DeVine says a lack of police has resulted in a rise in unsolved petty theft and vandalism — crimes that impact business. Burlington did not see a violent crime spike like other cities.
"This downtown needs to be for everybody — families, young children," DeVine said.
"We got in a situation where we just didn’t have enough public safety response," Hanson said.
Hanson, who voted to defund the police in 2020, actually voted in recent months to give $800,000 worth of retention and sign-on bonuses to officers.
There is a separate effort by others on the council to create more police positions, too.
Burlington is not alone
This shift is happening around the United States. New York City voted to cut funding in 2020. Two years later, it has increased following a spike in violent crime.
In Minneapolis, there were initial cuts as well, but now more funding. In Baltimore, a similar story is emerging.
One sign of how much has changed in progressive politics in recent years: President Joe Biden increased police funding this week by $30 billion in his budget proposal to Congress and highlighted in his State of the Union the need to fight crime.
Not a failure
"Ultimately, I think we right moving in the right direction,” Hanson said.
Hanson doesn't want people to think the "Defund the Police" movement was a complete failure.
He emphasized programs to help the mentally ill got improved in his city and around the country. Police budgets are now better scrutinized and staffing levels are closer to what should be acceptable.
As for any regrets, Hanson doesn't have many, although he does advise cities considering police cuts to do so more methodically than his beloved city of Burlington.
"It was a huge change in a short amount of time," Hanson said.