One evening in June 2020, a City Council budget meeting in Burlington, Vermont, a college town near the Canadian border, stretched past midnight after hundreds of residents had logged on to Zoom to speak. Over nine hours, bleary-eyed councilors heard a message that had rippled across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death: “defund the police.”
Other cities with similar profiles — majority-white college towns — “defunded” their police. Norman, Oklahoma, diverted 4% of the police budget to community services. Northampton, Massachusetts, cut 10% from the police budget.
Burlington's council, however, decided to slash almost 30% of its police force by attrition. Since then, city leaders have been forced to reckon with the unintended consequences of that decision, including problems with public safety and quality of life, police and residents say.
Almost a year and a half later, no one, it seems, is happy. Not even the councilor who proposed the resolution.
“We’re in a situation that I think nobody wanted us to get to,” said Councilor Zoraya Hightower, a member of the locally dominant Progressive Party.