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Burlington police commission undergoes civilian oversight training

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 12:36 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington Police Commission wrapped up training Thursday night with a national organization that provides guidance to communities that want civilian oversight of police.

The training was led by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). Their goal is to prepare the police commission to take on the responsibility to investigate citizen complaints against police and to discipline officers accused of misconduct, if that power is ever delegated to them. Right now, that authority solely belongs to the Burlington police chief.

Back in December, Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, vetoed a bill that sought to extend the commission’s authority over investigations as well as create a brand new control board made up of citizens. During the past two weeks of NACOLE training, police commissioners learned about the history of police oversight, how to conduct an investigation or handle citizen complaints, and how to strengthen community outreach.

Police Commission Chair Jabu Gamache says the training was invaluable in teaching them how to access certain information about body camera footage and ask police the right questions to better understand it. “Because a lot of times, I’ll see the video, I’ll take notes down, but I’m not a trained investigator. I can see something that looks wrong but now I can say after this training, I know other questions to ask to get a more holistic picture of what’s going on,” Gamache said.

Gamache says although the commission currently doesn’t have full investigative powers, they do now have more access to citizen complaints and they also get use of force reports at every meeting. Commissioners say they do hope to get more authority in the future.

NACOLE’s Cameron McEilhiney says when it comes to creating training for civilian oversight, police officers should be included in that process. “It’s very important to have law enforcement help develop the training so that it’s not being done in a vacuum. It’s also another way you can build some of those bridges and lines of communication that are so important to the overall results of the work,” he said.

McEilhiney also suggests that law enforcement be trained in oversight. They want officers to be educated on the role of the civilian oversight board and what to expect, so that there aren’t any misunderstandings between the police force and the oversight board.

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