Burlington Police Commission votes to support use-of-force policy

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 12:38 AM EDT
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The Burlington Police Department now has an updated use-of-force policy after the policy committee voted in favor of a revised draft.

Commissioners voted 5-1 Tuesday night with one commissioner abstaining.

The decision comes one week after commissioners were initially set to vote, but decided to hold off after hearing feedback from the public.

Commissioners met the next day but agreed to postpone the vote again due to concerns raised among themselves regarding some of the wording.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad revised the document and released it to the commission earlier Tuesday. Commissioner Mark Hughes, who did not participate in the vote, slammed Murad for not distributing the revised document sooner.

“There’s no way you will ever get me to vote on a policy that you send me hours, Jon, before a meeting. Never,” said Hughes. “It’ll never happen. As long as you’re chief. Ever. I don’t know what the heck is going on in this but I’m calling this a circus.”

Murad defended his decision, saying he couldn’t send commissioners the revisions until he checked with the city attorney about a change request, which he says took until Monday night.

“The changes that are in it were all publicized during the minutes that were distributed more than four days ago now,” Murad told Hughes. “The idea that this somehow is a whole new document which was given only four hours ago and no one had the time to review it is not accurate.”

There are about 16 revisions to the policy. Most of them are small changes in wording to alter the meaning of the sentence to make more clear what is required of police officers when it comes to de-escalation and using force.

Five of the new modifications strike the word word “should” and replace it with “must” or “will.” For example, “Officers should not intentionally escalate situations unnecessarily” now says “Officers must take care not to escalate situations unnecessarily.”

Regarding de-escalation, a clause that previously stated “Officers should recognize that their conduct prior to using force may influence the degree and immediacy of force required,” now says officers must recognize that.

City and police officials say the goal is to hold officers more accountable for their actions.

People in Burlington who WCAX News spoke to Tuesday night say they welcome the policy changes.

“Accountability is probably the first step to making systemic change,” said Patrick Neilen.

His wife, Kristen, agreed but said she wants to see more specificity in the excessive force clause.

“Being a little bit more precise in exactly what they mean. You know, what kind of force and everything like that so there's not as much gray of an area,” she said.

Jody Lane hopes to see more police departments in the U.S. take similar action.

“At this point, it’s well-needed. I think everywhere in the country right now— because of the current turmoil and chaos that has happened — I think everywhere needs to update and step it up,” he said.

WCAX reached out to Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, for his reaction to the passing of the updated use-of-force policy, which he drafted. He was unavailable for comment.

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