[Updated Feb. 2, 2016 8:01 p.m.]
On Saturday night, the streets of Burlington were mobbed by college students returning to school, and to party culture.
One man was confronted for public urination. A white van branded with the Burlington Public Works logo rolled along Buell Street on their patrol route. A Burlington officer confronted the offender, taking his information and ticketing him. At another house on Buell Street, a patrolling unit forced a group of students from their porch.
Subsidized by the University, which has paid for these late night student-area patrols with tuition dollars since July 2012, the BPD are a frequent presence in student-heavy neighborhoods.
To pay for the officers’ extra hours spent conducting these patrols, UVM allocates $100,000 per year from the general fund — 56.2 percent of which is made up of in-state and out-of-state tuition, according to the UVM Sourcebook.
“Obviously a lot of it is tuition money that goes into the budget, but there are a lot of other sources, and it’s just one more expense,” said Richard Cate, vice president for finance and treasurer at UVM. “It’s like paying a light bill.”
The University and Burlington have had an agreement for how much UVM pays the city for services provided each year since Sept. 26, 2007. According to the fiscal year 2014 report of the agreement, UVM paid a total of $2.4 million to the city – four times more than they’d ever paid Burlington before that year. In 2015, UVM’s payments to the city increased to $3.2 million, according to the 2015 report.
...it’s just one more expense. It’s like paying a light bill. Richard Cate, vice president for finance and treasurer at UVM
In the 2014 academic year, the University also initiated a federal work-study internship position to analyze where the most calls were coming from so the University could increase police patrols in those areas.
“That’s something that UVM has created – an analyst for them to be looking at the data from a UVM perspective,” Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, said.
Matt Sullivan, the BPD lieutenant of Area C, which is the area of Burlington where the most students reside, said that part of the $100,000 they receive from UVM goes toward paying for that intern, as well as patrols through Green Mountain Concert Services, who provide security services.
“So part of that money is set aside, but essentially $93,000 of the $100,000 is dedicated to extra patrols,” Sullivan said.
In fiscal year 2013, just under $28,000 was used of the $100,000, according to the fiscal year 2014 report from the University. In fiscal year 2014, $90,000 was used.
“I think we came close to using all of that money last year but this year there just hasn’t been enough cops signing up for the details that we post,” Sullivan said.
There are generally six extra officers put on these UVM-funded patrols on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but so far this year, due to the lack of officers signing up for the detail, Sullivan has limited it to only four officers on Thursday nights, he said.
“The patrols are focused in an area that typically student renters tend to live in,” said Joe Speidel, director of local government and community relations at UVM.
THE FLOW OF TICKET REVENUE
Not only is the BPD compensated by the University for their hours conducting these patrols, but the revenue from the fines for citations given out during these patrols flows directly into the police department, Weinberger said.
From 2010 to 2014, nine Burlington streets made up 1,165, nearly half, of noise ordinance tickets, according to the BPD’s list of tickets and the residences they were given out at.
The fine for a minor having alcohol is a $500 flat fee, according to Vermont’s statutes. For both party noise violations and general noise violations, after the first two violations, it is a criminal offense and a $500 fee, according to the ordinance. For general noise, the first violation is $200 and for party noise, the first violation is $300, according to the ordinance.
Over the last three years, the number of total calls for noise and alcohol violations have decreased, but the number of officer-initiated calls and alcohol violations given out have increased as a result of increased officer presence, according to a memo presented at the April 27, 2015 city council meeting.
The number of incidents where tickets were issued actually decreased per fiscal year since 2012, but the number of confirmed UVM students receiving noise citations increased from 25 during the 2012-2013 lease year to 100 during the 2013-2014 lease year, according to the memo.
Though social party noise violations mainly involve student-aged people, police aren’t targeting students, Janine Wright, acting chief of BPD, said.
“If we have an initiative to go out, it’s because residents have called about a particular area, especially with walk-by noise,” Wright said.
Weinberger said that it is not the BPD’s intent to generate revenue for the city through these citations.
“I think it’s important to point out, you know, there are some departments around the country that have really used the citations as a revenue generator and there’s been a real focus on increasing revenues on these enforcement efforts,” Weinberger said. “You know, that’s one of the things that was pointed out in Ferguson.”
'THE PROBLEM HOUSES'
UVM and the police department together are working to find the areas of the off-campus neighborhoods with the most amount of “problems.”
“We’re identifying what we call ‘problem houses’ and then working with the landlord to make sure that they are held accountable,” Stevens said.
The top 12 of these “problem properties”– locations where there have been three or more calls for service during a given lease year – were identified by Burlington Code Enforcement, according to the memo presented at the April 27 city council meeting.
There were a total of 149 calls for service to these 12 properties in the two years prior to July 2014, according to the memo. In fiscal year 2015, as a result of BPD officers spending the summer of 2014 targeting these 12 houses, there was a 73 percent reduction of calls for service to the homes, according to the memo.
Stevens said this initiative is not about the students; it’s about the neighborhoods. It is important for the problem properties to be identified because Burlington Police officers can then focus on these kinds of incidents where they are most likely to happen, instead of taking more officers away from more serious matters to cover a wide area, she said.
It also helps prevent more serious things from happening at these problem properties later on in the semester, she said.
“It pays off in threefold as we get into the semester,” Stevens said. “It really does.”
UVM AND BURLINGTON COEXISTING
Sullivan said he does feel that these extra patrols have made a huge difference in Burlington.
“When I started here 16 years ago, it was unbelievable what some of these neighborhoods looked like on an average night, and again, we didn’t have the resources to deal with the issue,” Sullivan said. “I think over the past three years, at least statistically, we’ve seen a significant decrease in issues.”
Wright said that students should make friends with their neighbors, because they would most likely be the ones to call if there’s an issue.
“I would much rather have them call you to say, ‘Hey, you’re being loud knock it off,’ then to immediately call us because it really doesn’t make for a good relationship. Before things get out of hand, that’s the best policy,” Wright said. “Unfortunately sometimes things still get out of hand and they have to call the police.”
Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, said the funding of extra patrols between UVM and the city was discussed and decided upon before his administration took office.
“The fiscal year 2013 budget was passed three months after I came into office,” Weinberger said. “In many respects, it was a budget that my brand new administration inherited from what had gone on up until then.”
Weinberger said that this university-funded patrol is an example of things that his administration inherited in the fiscal year 2013 budget and he isn’t the right person to go into detail on the discussions that occurred before this deal.
“My perspective now is that we’ve had three years of it and it does seem that there is some indication that these noise complaints have been going down in recent years,” Weinberger said.
Weinberger said that Burlington would not be the city it is without UVM and vice versa.
“I think UVM does quite a bit in a number of ways to try to ensure the impact of the University on the city and on the surrounding neighborhoods is a positive one,” Weinberger said.
Article written by Sarah Olsen and Pablo Murphy Torres. Additional reporting from Jacob Holzman, Jill Vaglica and Cole Wangsness.
Featured image by Oliver Pomazi.
[Editor’s Note: Annie Stevens was quoted in the original article published Sept. 9 as saying a fine for a noise citation in Burlington is a $500 flat fee. She did not say that.]