The Burlington Police Commission has spent months reviewing the department's internal, 83-page investigation into a clash between officers and protesters this summer. Tuesday night, the police commission issued its final review of the incident and its chairman says the police did not err, but adds there's potential to improve policies and procedures.
That didn't sway the opinion of some councilors who say the commission my be too chummy with the department to be the sole body of review. However, the council delayed a decision on whether to seek an independent investigation.
Nearly four months after a demonstration boiled over into violence at a Burlington protest this summer, residents and councilors say they still have unanswered questions: - Why did police have a large force on stand-by inside the hotel? - Why did protesters stop communicating peacefully with officers?
Those who spoke to the issue during the public forum of Tuesday night's city council meeting say they also question the police response in general as well as the investigation and review process that followed.
"The report from the police department and the report from the police commission are extremely biased," said Burlington resident Patrick Wood.
"Police pointed guns at non-violent sidewalk blockers, guns," said Burlington resident Brian Perkins, "they literally shot stationary protesters with rubber bullets and also shot at others while they ran away."
Burlington Police Commission Chairman Jerry O'Neill says they've found no indication that the police acted inappropriately that day and sees no reason for further investigation. "You heard things tonight about the events that are absolute poppy-cock," he said, "protesters being fired at as they left, protesters on sidewalks being fired at - fiction - look at the videos."
Police say they used pepper spray and pepper bullets to disperse unruly individuals. O'Neill says police did everything in their power to avoid escalating the situation. "The events of that day were due to a small number of violent people who were determined to cause trouble," he said.
Independent councilor Sharon Bushor and Progressive councilor Vince Brennan say that's not enough to assuage their concerns, in part, because the two agencies have a close working relationship.
"I'm certainly disturbed by this whole event," said Brennan.
"I, for one, thought the process was flawed," said Bushor.
O'Neill says the outcome is disturbing, but no one required medical attention, and police had in place -- and followed -- proper protocols. He says B.P.D. protocols are more encompassing than those of other similarly sized departments across the country. He added that though officers acted correctly in the commission's view there's still room for improving response guidelines.
Brennan had drafted a resolution calling for an independent investigation into the matter. However, the council delayed a vote on that measure until its Dec. 3 meeting.
However councilors are also planning a public discussion for November 28, beginning at 6:30 p.m. A location has not been determined.
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