Burlington City Council passes police discipline resolution

Published: Dec. 15, 2020 at 12:35 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 4:08 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A charter change proposal that seeks to grant a board of citizens the authority to discipline Burlington police officers is moving forward after a vote before the City Council Monday.

In a special meeting, the council voted 7-5 to pass the resolution just a week before the final deadline to approve charter changes for the March ballot, All five Democrats voted against it, while all six Progressives and the council’s only independent voted for it.

The city is looking for a diverse board of seven members with at least three of them Black or people of color. Each member would serve three to nine years and would be appointed by the council and the mayor. The board would have the power to investigate and discipline mostly higher-and mid-level police infractions including excessive force, unlawful arrest, stops and searches, disrespect or offensive language, and theft or discrimination.

Councilor Perri Freeman, P-Central, says this is a change from the initial responsibility granted to the board.

“It was originally that the board would manage all complaints and all misconduct, but we actually thought lower-level complaints could be handled internally. But we did still leave the board the right to appeal those decisions and allow them to have an independent and external investigation if they so desire,” Freeman said.

One of the greatest responsibilities the board would have is the authority to remove an officer, including the police chief, from the force or reduce their rank or suspend them without pay.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, says that’s the main reason he does not support the proposal.

“In several months, the mayor elected on March 2 will need to appoint a permanent police chief. Our ability to secure a top-tier chief to lead the department through the transformations that are necessary will be dramatically and negatively impacted by the current language which would grant the new board many causes under which they could remove the chief,” Weinberger said. “Further, I am concerned that police chief candidates will have serious, perhaps, decisive concerns about taking a position without certain disciplinary authorities.”

The charter change will now head to a public hearing in January, which is part of the procedure to put an item on the March ballot.

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