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Burlington City Council Approves Interim Police Chief

Colchester Chief of Police Jennifer Morrison
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Chief Jennifer Morrison (file)

The Burlington City Council confirmed an interim Police Chief Monday evening.  The move comes after the previous chief resigned after admitting using a fake Twitter account to criticize a police department critic. An acting chief was then removed for using a fake Facebook account.
On December 16, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger accepted the resignation of Police Chief Brandon del Pozo. The former chief had used an anonymous Twitter account for an hour to criticize a local activist and department critic, denied using such an account and then delayed informing the mayor about his actions.  
The mayor then appointed Jan Wright acting police chief. But within hours Weinberger replaced her after she admitted using a fake Facebook account and named John Murad acting chief pending the appointment of an interim chief.  
On Monday, Mayor Weinberger asked the City Council to approve his nomination of Jennifer Morrison to serve as interim chief of the city’s police department.  “We are very fortunate at this real challenging time in the city and the department's history that Chief Morrison has agreed to serve in this interim role. And I think it is a great opportunity for the department during this challenging time to have a woman of her experience and stature and background and particular experience in Burlington and Chittenden County. And I hope that Chief Morrison will get the council's strong support to serve in this interim role.”

Morrison was a Burlington police officer from 1990 to 2013 and was the city’s first female Deputy Chief. During the council’s public comment period several people spoke in favor of her appointment including former Police Commission Chair Jerry O’Neil.  “I have been a federal prosecutor in the past for eight and a half years here in Vermont. I've seen police officers of all sorts from the top of the FBI, state police officers, local police officers, you name it. I think I've worked with a great number of them. I can't think of anybody who's better qualified to be the interim police chief and Burlington. She's as good as they get.”

Morrison told councilors she had not planned to return to policing after she retired as Colchester Police Chief.  “I was not exactly looking for a job. In fact, I was very, very busy in retirement, but duty called, and I could not turn away from the department and the community that shaped me as both an adult and as a law enforcement leader. So here I am. I see the interim role as different from if you were considering me for your permanent chief’s role. I see myself as a bridge to improve communication, rebuild some trust where trust needs to be rebuilt, but mostly preparing the agency to receive a new chief.”

Councilors posed a number of questions including use of force, police discipline and transparency. Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy asked about social media usage. “How do you see yourself engaging with accountability as a result of misuse of social media?”
Morrison:  “The city is going to have a city wide policy. Finishing that policy and getting the training done should be very high on the priority list. I don't foresee the Burlington Police Department changing the way they interact with the community on an official level. They do what I believe is a very good and comprehensive job of spreading a lot of different types of information via social media and I don't see that changing. But I do see that in conjunction with ushering in a new policy that we're going to have to be really taking a look at any allegations that personnel within the PD have misused social media.”

Morrison was sworn in immediately after the unanimous approval of the City Council.  She is expected to serve four to six months during a national search for a permanent replacement. She will not seek the permanent position.  Audio is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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