ACLU of Vermont weighs in on police discipline discussion

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 12:41 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2020 at 8:47 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As calls for police reform intensify in Burlington, the ACLU of Vermont is offering its insight on what a disciplinary body should look like.

Jay Diaz, an attorney with the ACLU, joined in on Wednesday’s charter change committee discussion on changing oversight of police. The debate has been ongoing for two weeks, ever since the Burlington City Council approved a resolution asking the committee to look into the possibility of changing the city’s charter to allow a public body to fire officers accused of misconduct and excessive force.

Diaz says the ACLU has a 10-point plan that focuses on reimagining policing in Vermont. He says the three main tenets of changing oversight are public trust, independence and broad authority.

“That means an entity that is transparent, that is meaningful, accountable and that is democratic," said Diaz. "So it must be representative of the community and it must be representative of its diversity of thought, diversity of identity, and include people from all walks of life.”

Diaz believes the oversight should be independent of the police and focus on the department over time to look for improvements. He also says the board should have broad authority to conduct discipline in a variety of matters that impact the public, such as use-of-force, unlawful search, seizure and arrest, and use of explicit language.

Burlington Acting Police Chief Jon Murad says the city’s current police commission already meets the standard of being independent, transparent and community-driven.

“This is a body of independent citizens of this city. They are appointed and selected by you, the members of the City Council. They’re not under the control of the chief, they’re not under control of the mayor," Murad said.

Murad did, however, agree there’s work to do regarding the police commission’s authority and power.

“That is a place where we can talk about whether or not there needs to be additional steps to create some of the things that have been observed with regard to saying, ‘Can this entity do this? Can this entity demand this? Can this entity have a certain amount of influence over outcomes?’” he said.

The charter change committee agreed to recess until next Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

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