Debate over policing and policies related to the Burlington, Vermont Police Department have been at a boiling point in the city over the past year. During a joint meeting of the Public Safety Committee and the Police Commission this week, tensions between the committees and the mayor intensified after the administration announced a change in how a study would be managed.
Burlington is undertaking a study of policing and the city’s Director of Racial Equity was expected to oversee the process. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat just elected to a fourth three-year term, sent an email to the committees just before their meeting informing them that instead Burlington Electric Department General Manager Darren Springer was assigned as a neutral overseer of the policing study. Central District Progressive and Public Safety committee member Perri Freeman found the decision perplexing. “The Council authorized a resolution that from my understanding put the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Office in charge of this proposal and then now it’s going through the electric department. It’s just absolutely bizarre to me.”
Police Commissioner Melo Grant was dubious about Springer’s appointment due to his lack of experience in police issues. “No offense to Darren suddenly Darren’s dropped in our lap. And just seeking clarification which I feel we have a right to do and I think also you know we throw around that word ‘expertise’. What knowledge? I don’t know I guess I’m concerned about it’s just a certain aspect starting too much from scratch.”
Freeman wondered why the city’s director of Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging was removed as manager for the contract. “We have a Black woman who has been contracted with the city, who has a position with the city, to assist and guide racial equity work in the city. And then when it comes to actual decision making power you remove that person from a position of power and a position of decision making. It doesn’t sit right with me.”
The chair was asked to call the mayor into the meeting. Weinberger said he did consider having the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging department conduct the study. “I ultimately felt that REIB should be very involved in this project. I want those perspectives to be brought to bear on the report. I was really looking for a neutral party to be leading this effort and I thought Darren with his position, which doesn’t really have an institutional kind of perspective on this and his long history managing a variety of sort of comparable important studies for the city I thought he was a good choice for that.”
Commissioner Grant immediately challenged the mayor. “It sounds like you didn’t trust REIB to be independent. Why would that be?”
Weinberger: “Commissioner I have a lot of trust in the REIB department. We have a city that has divisions and different viewpoints on the future of policing in this city. And clearly racial justice is a critical lens and one that must be brought to bear. I think if that is seen as sort of guiding the report, overseeing the whole report, I think there could be questions about the fairness and the impartiality of it.”
Grant continued to question the mayor’s decision. “There is a really huge issue of trust and the way that this is being handled doesn’t to me feel, I don’t trust this this process. I don’t feel that this decision was made with transparency.”