Burlington one step closer to civilian police oversight board

Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 7:29 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington is one step closer to granting a citizen review board authority to discipline police officers accused of misconduct.

The Charter Change Committee took a final look at the language of the proposal on Wednesday night.

As currently written, the resolution would give the board the power to fire officers including the police chief. They could also reduce an officer’s rank or suspend them without pay.

Members of the public chimed into the discussion. Some were wondering why the current language doesn’t give the board authority and input in the process of hiring police officers.

Members of the Charter Change Committee agreed the civilian police oversight board should only deal with misconduct.

“The way that it works currently is the mayor appoints all of the department heads and then the council approves those appointees by vote,” said Councilor Perri Freeman. “I just feel that that process actually still kind of makes sense.”

Ashley LaPorte, a local social justice activist, said she understands the intent of that decision, but suggested that there be language in the resolution that specifically states the board shall have input in the hiring decision.

“I’m not saying that this community control board has to have the sole hiring power but I’d like to have a formal seat at the table,” LaPorte said.

The public also pushed the committee to no longer give officers who are under investigation a chance to view their body camera video before testifying. They’re worried it gives the officers an advantage over the victim.

“If they want access to the footage in a way that gives them the upper hand, I do think that we need to think about, in terms of the downstream disciplinary actions, how we mitigate them having access to things that enable them to defend themselves against misconduct,” LaPorte said.

Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood says police believe it’s important for officers to see that video.

“The various chiefs that I have represented over the course of this have felt strongly that officers should have the right to view their body camera footage before they are forced to make a statement about it that will be contrary to their interests. They feel very strongly about that,” Blackwood said.

This is not a done deal. The resolution now heads to the full Burlington City Council as well as the Joint Police and Public Safety Commission for review in early December.

The proposal also states that the board shall be made up of seven residents of Burlington who are appointed by the City Council and the mayor to serve no more than three years. The resolution asks that at least three members be people of color.

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