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Weinberger calls special meeting to discuss police disciplinary charter change

Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 12:30 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2020 at 4:59 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is calling for a special City Council meeting as discussions over changing the city charter to modify police discipline measures continue.

Weinberger, D-Burlington, sent a memo to city councilors during Monday’s council meeting informing them of the special meeting next Monday, Dec. 14. He says this will give them an additional week to “initiate the Charter Change process by warning a public hearing on specific Charter Change language.” He says if the council doesn’t get it done by next week, they won’t have another chance to do so for another year.

In his memo, Weinberger also laid out the changes he would like to see. He proposes giving the police commission and the mayor a say on the investigation results. He also wants the police commission to have the authority to hold hearings and to make the final decision if the commission and the police chief do not agree on disciplinary measures.

This came as the Burlington Police Commission was giving its final recommendations to the Burlington City Council on police discipline and oversight. Commissioners say changes can’t be implemented without cooperation from the police union, and that the contract is one of the hindrances standing in the way of stronger police officer discipline.

Police commission chair Jabulani Gamache says the current contract describes how police officer discipline can be administered. Gamache says it states officers can only be held accountable for conduct that is in violation of department policies, orders or training. It also says that in order to discipline an officer, they must be met with “just cause.”

“‘Just cause,’ here in the contract, is the notion that officers have notice as to what conduct warrants disciplinary actions,” Gamache said. “‘Just cause’ here also includes that consideration of past practices in the department.”

The contract explains that past discipline for misconduct determines what type of punishment is administered in similar cases in the future. The police commission recommends that be scrapped from the next police union contract, which goes into effect in 2022.

“To prevent ‘just cause’ from facing limitations that impose discipline, the BPOA contract and applicable policies must be revised to say explicitly that the past handling of discipline will be treated differently moving forward,” Gamache said.

The police commission also identified cultural resistance as an impediment to police being disciplined. They describe cultural resistance as police officers’ unwillingness to undergo increased public scrutiny. They say another potential hindrance is the pressure to retain officers, as the department continues to lose employees. The commission says that should not affect the responsibility to discipline an officer.

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