The Burlington, Vermont Police Department has been criticized recently after some high-profile incidents. This spring, two lawsuits were filed against the city claiming excessive force by police officers. In another incident, the March death of a man involved in an altercation with an officer was ruled a homicide by the state’s medical examiner. During a May city council meeting a number of Burlington residents questioned police actions and the department’s transparency. This week, the police chief was up for reappointment — leading to some debate about whether the council should approve his 2020 tenure.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger presented a list of nearly two dozen department heads for the City Council to confirm reappointments. They included the City Attorney, the Electric Department General Manager, the International Airport’s aviation director and the city police chief. “I think the group of department heads that the city has now is highly committed, highly skilled. We’re extremely fortunate to have the group of individuals we have committed to serving the people of Burlington.”
The council was set to approve the reappointments as a single slate. Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng moved that the reappointment of Police Chief Brandon del Pozo be considered separately. “Many people in this community are not happy about the chief’s work. He demonstrated negligence. That was the only city department that has so much controversial in putting him into office. Racism exists. Discrimination exists. There was a man who died here in our community because of an interaction with a police officer. The examiner, medical examiner of this state, did make a report that the chief questioned that report. And no one said anything. I am not voting for the Chief del Pozo to be reappointed.”
Mayor Weinberger countered: “I’m not going to deconstruct every statement just made by Councilor Dieng but I disagree with virtually everything just said. It’s not right and I strongly support the reappointment of Chief del Pozo. I think he’s been a great police chief for the people of Burlington. I think he has earned the support of vast numbers of people within the community.”
During earlier public comments social worker Lacey Smith spoke in favor of del Pozo’s reappointment. “I come to you wearing many hats: a mother, a person of color as well as a civilian social worker at the police department. In my role I am guided by the belief that collaboration, communication as well as transparency and accountability are absolutes that are necessary for a community to trust its police department. I have no doubt that the chief shares the same beliefs and it can be seen in many of the practices, policies and initiatives he’s started in his tenure. I understand and I empathize with the community’s reaction to the events over the last few months. I know that I work for a police department that is actively trying to improve how it serves its community under the leadership of Chief Del Pozo. Regardless of how you feel about this chief there is obvious evidence to how he has made this police department one that other departments from all over this country seek to emulate.”
East District Progressive Jack Hanson planned to support the chief’s reappointment. “I’ll be supporting the reappointment not because I don’t share some of the serious concerns that were raised but because in the forthcoming resolution that I sponsored you’ll see some of the ways that I would like to address these issues. So I do take the concerns very seriously but I will be supporting the reappointment.”
Hanson’s resolution included a call for officers found to have used excessive force be publicly named and fired. It also called for reducing the number of police officers to instead hire social workers.
Councilors approved the reappointment of Chief Brandon del Pozo on a 9 to 2 vote with Dieng and Central District Progressive Perri Freeman opposed.