City Councilors in Vermont’s largest city considered two resolutions this week stemming from controversies over the Burlington Police Department. One was crafted in response to use of force issues and the other forms a committee to review policing practices. One resolution passed and the other failed.
The Burlington Police Department has been under scrutiny after two separate lawsuits were filed this spring claiming excessive force by police officers last fall in the downtown area. The community has also questioned the department’s transparency after the police chief appeared to intervene in the state medical examiner’s homicide ruling regarding the death of a man involved in an altercation with an officer.
Two resolutions were offered at Monday’s city council meeting. The first resolution addressing use of force policies and transparency calls for the names of officers determined to have used “brutal or excessive force” and subsequently fired be publicly identified; mandate the use and accelerate the release of body camera footage and reduce the number of police officers to instead hire social workers. Central District Progressive Perri Freeman is a co-sponsor. “It clearly outlines an expectation around force, around excessive, around brutal force and around violence and around transparency and accountability.”
During public comments, Jackie Corbally, a social worker at the police department, criticized the resolution. “The women and men who make up our police department do work that frankly many of us would not want to do. Every single day they’re faced with making decisions that are gut-wrenching and dangerous. To have a conversation about reducing the police force and putting social workers in those places is incredibly dangerous.”
Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason said the first resolution is overly politicized. “It ignores established policies and procedures on use of force and ignores the full amount of information that was available to the Police Chief and the commission. Finally I object to the insertion of the council’s judgment on staffing levels.”
As the nearly hour-long debate on the first resolution drew to a close, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright weighed in. “I and other councilors worked hard to actually add police officers to the police force over the last two or three or four years. These incidents are serious. They need to be addressed and reviewed and they will be. But I am not going to be part of an effort that ends up unintentionally demoralizing the men and women of our police department.”
The resolution failed on a 9 to 3 vote. Councilors then considered a second resolution offered by Ward 8 Independent Adam Roof to create a special committee to review community policing practices. “First it creates a special working committee representative of the community. The special committee will lead a community-wide review of Burlington’s policing policies and oversight practices which will result in policy change recommendations that comes to this council. Lastly and importantly the resolution commits sufficient resources to empower this committee’s work.”
The second resolution was approved 11 to 1.