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Burlington Police Commission Agenda Includes Initial Discussion About Excited Delirium

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

The Burlington, Vermont Police Commission met for nearly three hours Tuesday evening. The panel heard presentations on police reform and arrest alternatives and took a preliminary look at a controversial term that is being increasingly used in law enforcement: Excited Delirium.

The office of the Chittenden County State’s Attorney is responsible for all criminal prosecution in the county. State’s Attorney Sarah George has been working on policies to limit the number of cases and people who enter the criminal justice system. She told police commissioners her office declined to prosecute over 1,000 misdemeanor cases during the pandemic and encourages alternatives to arrest.

“There’s incredible data to show that restorative justice has much greater outcomes, much more beneficial outcomes, than punitive justice. And that includes victim satisfaction.”

Colby College professor of Sociology Neil Gross specializes in law enforcement issues. The former police officer was asked to discuss his research on racial disparities in vehicle stops. Gross noted that Black Americans are about 43 percent more likely to be pulled over than their white counterparts.

“This isn’t a single city problem. It’s a national problem. You know being pulled over on a really frequent basis for no real reason at all is frustrating, maddening, terrifying and conveys that one doesn’t have the full protection, the full rights, under the law. So this is a huge problem," he said. "This is not news to anybody I would think at this point but it’s a really significant aspect of the problem with racial Inequality in policing.”

The Burlington Police Commission held a preliminary discussion on a controversial term being debated nationally: Excited Delirium. Proponents of the term say it is a valid behavioral description while opponents say it’s being used to justify use of force.

Burlington’s Acting Police Chief Jon Murad says the term is not part of Vermont’s new use of force policy.

“The section that is in our Use of Force policy which we drafted with an ER doctor, the Association of ER doctors does recognize the term. It is a very important term to them. It’s irrelevant now simply because it is not in the state Use of Force policy and it won’t be part of ours either.”

But Police Commissioner Melo Grant disagreed it is irrelevant because it is being used in the city’s use of force reports. She cited an American Medical Association statement this summer denouncing the term and its diagnosis.

“It is not a legitimate term. This is from the American Medical Association, the AMA. A press release that they did June 24th of this year. The current evidence does not support Excited Delirium as an official diagnosis, denounces Excited Delirium as a sole justification for law enforcement use of excessive force," Grant relates. "In the city of Burlington we should use actual terms not a term that was quite frankly made up. Not a term that has a lot of racial disparities. I think now we just need to take the time to really examine a term that’s hurtful.”

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