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Burlington Police Commission Considers New Use-Of-Force Policies

photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium
Photo - Pat Bradley/WAMC
photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium

The Burlington Police Commission met twice this week to consider updated Use-of-Force directives for city police department.  No decision on the document was made.
The police commission met virtually on Tuesdayto issue a statement on the death of George Floyd and then take public comments.  Most who called were members or supporters of the Burlington Racial Justice Alliance.
“Hi my name is Colleen Winslow. I am here to uplift the demands that have been made by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.”
“My name is Danielle Shaw. I am here tonight to amplify the demands of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.”
Courtney Rae-Forty: “I’m calling primarily to uplift the list of demands made by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.”

Most who called in read the same demands advanced by the Racial Justice Alliance.
Andrea Kohl:  “Thirty percent reduction in uniformed officers.”
Danielle Shaw: “The removal of all police out of schools, stopping the use of police for truancy calls.”
Reed Frost:  “And to stop the abusive officers: Joseph Corrow, Cory Campbell, and Jason Bellavance
Emma Redden:  “And for the entire department to have extensive training on how systemic racism operates.”

Beyond reciting the demands, some of the advocates expressed strong criticism of Burlington’s police department.
“Hi I am a white resident of Ward 5. My name is Andrea Kohl. The institution of policing in this country was founded in racism and white supremacy. The police in Burlington are no different from the police elsewhere. The institution itself is immoral and must be abolished.”
“My Name is Mariah Cronin. The police are damaging and dividing our city and the country. As a survivor of sexual violence I am intimately aware of their incapacity to help victims.  Excuse my French, all cops are bastards.”
Michael Fife feels the police department isn’t the only group that needs to be revamped.  “The Police Commission needs to have some actual oversight and authority over the police department. I don’t think that exists right now. As long as it’s only an advisory board what’s the point?”

Commissioner Harp: “There is someone in the queue she’s a member of the Racial Justice Alliance. Can we listen to her?”
“Hello my name is Mayumi Cornell. I am a resident of Burlington. I am African American. I beg you if you hear nothing else tonight there is racism here. It pains me to know that I can be stopped only for the way that I look. There is systematic racism from the top to the bottom and we are disingenuous if we don’t think that it’s here.”

The public forum ended late in the evening and commissioners decided to recess until the next evening to take up the next agenda item: a review and discussion of new use-of-force directives.  Each proposal was reviewed line by line for semantics and accuracy.  At one point Commissioner Randall Harp and Deputy Chief John Murad had an extended debate over using the word “should” versus “will” in some clauses.
Harp: “Even if there’s no justification you think that will is a stronger term than should?”  
Murad:  “If there’s no justification there’s no justification. But I think the should probably does create some sense of difference there yes.  But that’s why I’m suggesting that will is the right thing here.”
Harp:  “No no I’m sorry. I do want to linger on this a little bit because this will affect how I go through the rest of the documents.”

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jennifer Morrison eventually asked the commissioners about their goal.  “Is the purpose of this policy to give the best practice guidance to our officers and to ensure best possible outcomes? Or is it just to give a measuring stick for discipline because that’s what I’m hearing right now. As a matter of good policy writing we have to kind of keep the goal in mind which is to have a best practice to give our people clear guidance and yes if they fall short here are the ramifications and consequences. But the policy document itself is not meant to be a ‘got-ya’. And that’s a little bit of where I feel we’re going.”

No decision was made and the commission recessed until June 16th to review the revisions made to the use-of-force directives.
Audio is courtesy of the live webstream provided by Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.


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