Burlington and Plattsburgh try to attract top cops

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 5:52 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In both the Queen and Lake Cities, the search for the next top cop is on. While Burlington and Plattsburgh differ in key respects, the search for new chiefs of police comes at a time when both city government and law enforcement are struggling to redefine themselves across the country.

It’s a tale of two cities on either side of Lake Champlain, both having different levels of success attracting a new police chief. Both Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest say they want 21st-century cops to lead their communities in changing times, with more emphasis on qualities like diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“What the city of Plattsburgh is really looking for is someone who can drive a change of culture and a change of mentality in an industry that hasn’t always been open to change, hasn’t always driven change internally,” Rosenquest said.

“We need to achieve a new consensus on public safety in this community and I think having a permanent chief appointed after a good process is really a critical step in achieving that consensus,” Weinberger said.

Both searches come after the previous chiefs left under a cloud of scandal. In Burlington, former Chief Brandon del Pozo was discovered to have taunted an opponent using a fake social media account and then lying about it to the media. In Plattsburgh, former Chief Levi Ritter was put on leave and later resigned after his name was added to a lawsuit against five other officers accused of allegedly beating a man in police custody in 2017.

Plattsburgh has received 52 applicants and is moving forward with interviews with nine candidates. Burlington has suspended its search after getting only 21 applications. “The committee that I set up, that is a key part of this process, made the recommendation that we declare that pool insufficient,” Weinberger said.

Of the applicants in Burlington, none were women and only two -- including Acting Chief Jon Murad -- met minimum job requirements.

So how do the two cities compare? Burlington has a population of 43,000 while Plattsburgh is about half the size at 19,000. Burlington’s force is authorized at 74 to 87 officers while Plattsburgh’s is 38 to 48 officers.

Pay for the new chief would be in the range of $119,000 to $133,000 in Burlington, while in Plattsburgh it’s $111,000 to $124,000. Weinberger says that pay range is too low to attract qualified candidates. The Democrat has also criticized the Progressive-leaning City Council for scaring candidates away. “The council has taken a number of actions over the last 18 months that, in sum, have made it very challenging to police in this community,” he said.

Montpelier recently went through its own search process last year. Montpelier City Manager William Fraser says there are a number of factors at play for applicants considering an opening. “Any professional person looks at, what’s the organization I’m going into? What’s their feeling towards police? What kind of issues have they had? What’s it like to live in -- cost of living,” he said.

The search is still on hold in Burlington. Mayor Weinberger is expected to address the City Council on Monday with a list of demands.

Meanwhile, interviews with the final nine candidates were conducted in Plattsburgh Thursday. Mayor Rosenquest says they are expected to narrow that group down to four and conduct interviews with the search committee.

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