Burlington voters to weigh in on community police oversight board

Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 4:22 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Queen City residents will weigh in on several charter changes this Town Meeting Day. But there will also be two measures put forward by residents. One would allow citizens to put referendums directly on the ballot and another addresses police oversight.

As Burlington continues police reform efforts, a citizen-led charter change would create a community oversight board of the police department, a measure that failed two years ago after a mayoral veto.

“With the BPD, we believe that the need for accountability is so great that this needs to happen before we can move forward with rebuilding the police force. To regain the community trust is key through this process,” said Faried Munarsyah, who led the petition drive to get the proposed charter change on the March ballot. The proposal would put officer discipline and termination in the hands of a civilian oversight board, instead of the chief of police and mayor. The board would also be permitted to subpoena the department for records, documents, or further evidence in instances of suspected misconduct.

“I think it’s pretty absurd and really it’s offensive to the men and women that go out there and put their bodies and their lives on the line for this community every day and I hope that it will be soundly rejected,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. He says it’s problematic to omit the chief from disciplinary matters and give that power to people with no law enforcement experience. Weinberger says it would also harm the recruitment and retention of police officers. “Given how offensive this proposal is to law enforcement personnel, I am very concerned that were this to pass, it would really undercut the progress we are starting to make finally on rebuilding the department.”

“One of the major roles of law enforcement is building trust in their communities, and allowing for that oversight is not something we think should be concerning for people trying to enter the profession,” said Falko Schilling with the ACLU.

The mayor vetoed a similar charter change proposed by the city council two years ago. But because this proposal resulted from a citizen petition, it automatically goes on the March 7th ballot.

Another proposed charter change would enable even more voter referendums in the future. Right now, voters can only petition for charter changes, but if this proposal changes, citizens could directly place new ordinances on the ballot. The mayor also opposes that measure, arguing that deliberative democracy through city council representatives has served Burlington well.

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