Mayor adds post to direct transformation of Burlington Police

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 12:52 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:38 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s a new director in the Burlington mayor’s office taking on a big responsibility. The city has hired a well-known community member to lead the charge on changing the city’s policing. Our Christina Guessferd has details and reaction.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, has dubbed the position the director of police transformation and he’s put Kyle Dodson at the helm.

Dodson has served as the president and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA since 2016. To meet his new duties, Dodson will take a temporary, six-month leave of absence.

Now, he answers to Weinberger.

His work will cover oversight of the Burlington Police Department’s planning, policy and engagement efforts. That includes an operational and functional assessment of the department, an examination of public safety transformation, a review of who makes and reviews police disciplinary decisions, and a review of police disciplinary measures.

But the details on the “transformations” are still unclear.

Dodson says it will take some time to implement specific actions.

“I trust Miro. I trust what he’s trying to do. I trust Chief Murad, I trust this community. So I’m going to go in there and give it the best of my ability. I’m going to be transparent. I’m going to tell people how I’m feeling. I’m going to try to proceed with a certain set of principles that’s probably going to make it hard for me at times, maybe harder for people I’m talking with,” Dodson said.

Dodson is calling on community members to engage in the difficult conversations that will be a part of forging the path forward.

He joked that he and Burlington Deputy Police Chief Jon Murad have already “respectfully disagreed” on a number of issues in the last few days but that the dialogue strengthened their connection.

It’s a connection between people of color, police officers and community members that Dodson says will be crucial in achieving a common goal: fair and impartial policing.

Weinberger on Friday also announced five additional actions he says he hopes will accelerate urgent changes in the Burlington Police Department.

And he acknowledges these actions are in direct response to the Battery Park protesters' demands.

“I continue to ask myself can we do more. The answer is yes, yes we can and must do more,” Weinberger said.

The mayor says the five actions-- in addition to his appointment of Dodson as director of police transformation-- is doing more. Doing more to make use-of-force incidents rare, to increase transparency and accountability of elected officials, and to ensure Black and brown community members feel protected by the city’s police officers.

The five actions include:

  • An executive order requiring the police chief to formally present the mayor with all police personnel disciplinary decisions so he can provide a recommendation.
  • Directing the city attorney to review the city’s contract with the Burlington Police Officers Association for potential changes.
  • Requesting that the Burlington Police Commission approve a new body camera footage release policy.
  • Creating a community service liaison pilot program.
  • And developing a new policy on the release of investigations into officer conduct.

The executive order will go into effect immediately.

The Burlington Police Commission will have to sign off on the public investigation into police conduct and the bodycam policy. As for the latter, Weinberger proposes the department proactively release footage within 30 days of an incident. For the former, he recommends the department be more transparent.

They are moves Weinberger insists requires conversations between persons of color, community members and police officers.

“We have to find a way I think if we’re going to succeed at this to support, value and engage our sworn officers and include them in the forging of this new consensus of what public safety means,” he said.

A level of cooperation Dodson agrees is crucial.

“If you’re not for us, you’re against us,” Dodson said. “You’ve got to be actively fighting to uproot what we’ve inherited historically, or else you are by default complicit.”

Since the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has pushed for equitable changes in the Burlington Police Department, I asked if these actions satisfy their requests. Leaders tell me they need more time to discuss.

I’m also waiting for a response from the Burlington Police Commission, as they will decide the fate of two of those actions.

Click here for the mayor’s press release on the new job and other actions he is taking.

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