Burlington’s police chief trumpets his agency’s improved, low vacancy rate

The uniform might’ve been “blue,” but the mood was anything but, when Burlington’s chief of police gave the city’s elected leaders an update on his agency’s struggles to replenish its once-depleted ranks.

Chief Alan Balog ultimately delivered a glowing report when he appeared before Burlington’s city council on Monday to share the latest on the police department’s efforts to recruit and retain high-caliber officers.

Balog acknowledged that his agency’s ranks were getting perilously thin in December of 2022 when his predecessor Brian Long persuaded the council to approve a package of pay raises and benefits that were intended to leave the police department’s rivals in the proverbial dust.  Balog added that these measures have worked precisely how Long had anticipated when he floated them a year and a half ago.

“It has been very successful,” he added. “That investment has really paid off.”

Balog said that his department has processed over 500 applications since December 1, 2022 and has gone on to hire 55 of these applicants. He added that the city’s police force currently has officers assigned to 150 of its 152 sworn positions – although 25 of these officers are still going through training. Balog also noted the contributions of the department’s non-sworn staff, who’ve taken over many functions, like roadside assistance, that were once the sole province of the city’s police officers.

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Balog acknowledged that, in addition to upstaffing, a “huge amount” of the department’s resources have gone into training. As a result, he said that the department has cultivated a highly professional cadre of officers, whose quality can be deduced from metrics, like their use of force, which had dropped to an unprecedentedly low 18 incidents this past year.

Balog added that these auspicious reversals have enabled the police department to focus on its three, big-picture priorities – namely effective emergency response, preventing harm, and developing positive relationships with the community in non-emergency situations.  As an illustration of how things have improved, the city’s police chief observed that the city’s crash rate has gone down – in contravention to the overall national trend.

Balog went on to credit the council’s support for much of this turnaround. He insisted that even the agency’s new recruits are quick to spot that the council has their collective backs.

“It’s different here than in other agencies across the state, and they know it.”

All in all, Balog insisted that the city’s police force has met the council’s high expectations since he began his tenure as the agency’s head.

“I heard loud and clear when I became police chief that you wanted a modern, highly-trained, and proactive police department, with officers and professional staff who could prevent bad things from happening to people,” he added, “and I think that’s exactly what the department has delivered.”

Balog’s report ultimately received a warm welcome from Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler.

“I think we got our money’s worth,” he told the city’s police chief, “and I think you guys are on exactly the right path.”