Burlington hosts 3rd community conversation on policing

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 5:01 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington community members and police officers met Wednesday as part of ongoing discussions about racial justice.

Kyle Dodson, the city’s director of police transformation, is leading what he calls an honest conversation in which he hopes to give people a safe space to speak candidly. Several members of the police department, including Acting Police Chief John Murad and minority community members sat in a socially distant circle to talk about major issues at the forefront of Burlington’s debate over policing, including defunding efforts and officer employment caps.

It’s the third such conversation and Dodson hopes they will continue. “I think these conversations have been characterized by a certain level of trust and good faith. And we dig in and all those difficult things get discussed, but I think that it’s happening in a healthy and productive manner,” he said.

“We want to feel safe. We want to feel that when we walk out the door we’re going to be able to walk back into our door. I think this was a great start to open up that door to have that conversation and be vulnerable,” said Vincent Mitchell, a community member at the meeting. He describes himself as a pillar of the community working to build trust of the police.

The conversation allowed a safe space for Mitchell, and other Black, Indigenous, and people of color to share their own trauma and interactions with officers. “There’s nothing out of bounds, if you’re feeling it you should say it and we’ll work through it,” says Dodson.

Five Burlington officers were able to walk seven community members through an honest accounting of what goes through their heads in heated situations.

“I leave these sessions feeling hopeful and feeling a lot more positive about where we’re headed and how, by speaking with the community members, that we can change our police department and fall more in line with what they see their police department being,” said Burlington Police Acting Deputy Chief Wade Labrecque. He says he hopes the conversations will help everyone better understand each other personally and continue the work of building positive relationships.

“We don’t want to forget our past but we definitely want to remember what’s happened and move it forward so we can take the right steps to do what we need to do,” Mitchell said.

Dodson will end his six months on the job in April. He tells us he will resume his role as CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA, where he plans to continue his anti-racism work there. But hopes these types of community conversations will stick around.

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