The Burlington Police Commission is a civilian body that provides administrative oversight of the police department in Vermont’s largest city. During its monthly meeting Tuesday evening it heard from an organization that provides resources and helps such groups maintain civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies.
The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, or NACOLE, (nay-cole) helps communities make their local law enforcement agencies more transparent, accountable, and responsive to the communities they serve. NACOLE Director of Training and Education Cameron McEllhiney told Burlington Commissioners they do that by working with all stakeholders involved with civilian oversight. “We have developed 13 main principles, things that do when put in place lead to more effective oversight. These things include independence, community outreach, adequate jurisdiction and authority, adequate funding and staffing, procedural justice and legitimacy. So that’s just an example of some of those principles.”
Burlington Acting Police Chief Jon Murad told McEllhiney that he presented at the 2019 NACOLE conference and told the commission about the organization. “To what extent is the training that you talk about also training that familiarizes civilians and people who haven’t been sworn-in law enforcement officers with law enforcement prodeducre, policy and experience? But what about the sort of law enforcement experience aspect, the training that officers get as well?”
McEllhiney: “So in many cases we recommend that that training come from the local law enforcement agency. It’s really important for an oversight entity to understand the particular policies and procedures that guide their police departments.”
A resolution will be presented to the city council for approval of membership in NACOLE. Commissioners also considered a revised policy for releasing body-worn camera footage. Commissioner Randall Harp was among those concerned about clarifying the redaction clause. “In the statement where it says in cases that requires the police department to redact footage there’s no kind of precise account there of what those cases might be. So I was wondering whether or not that could be spelled out more clearly. And then the second was one of the things which was excluded from this draft was a kind of governing principle about how those redactions should be done. So I’m wondering whether there’s any way for the public and for the commission to be reassured that the cases that might require the Police Department to redact footage are narrowly circumscribed and second that the principles according to which such redactions would be done are understandable and appropriate.”
The draft policy will be revised and returned to the commission for consideration at its April meeting.
During his monthly report to the commission Acting Chief Murad acknowledged the mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado and noted data showing there was an increase in gun violence across the country in 2020. Murad said while the number of gunfire incidents in Burlington is small there are troubling indications the city is not immune from the growing trend in violent incidents. “In the past month we’ve had three. We have had an attempted homicide. That individual had a firearm in hand and yet officers resolved that situation safely for all involved. A few nights later a number of shots fired in the south end of town. We still don’t know what that incident is or is not. And then a few nights after that an individual armed with an AR-15 style weapon apparently was firing at another vehicle that that individual was pursuing. The fact that it happened at all, that kind of gunfire in our city multiple rounds being fired, that’s disturbing and it’s a picture of a trend that we saw uptick a lot in 2020 and to begin 2021 with it is concerning.”