Police Department

Burlington Police Department - Frequently Asked Questions

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That police officer was almost immediately fired, along with three others who failed to intervene. All four officers have since been arrested and charged with murder or aiding and abetting murder. This horrific event has occasioned demonstrations across the country and locally, and our local officials have spoken out to strongly condemn this killing and take immediate next steps. Over the same period, the Burlington Police Department (BPD) has received many inquires about our policies and practices. Here are some answers to the most common questions.

 

  • Are BPD officers required to wear body-worn cameras? If so, are these cameras required to be turned on when our officers respond to police calls?

Yes. All officers are required to wear body-worn cameras and follow the procedures of the Department’s Directive relating to the wearing of body-worn camera systems. (Department Directive 14.1 - Body Worn Camera Systems) The policy, DD14.1, states, “All Officers, to include assisting Officers, will activate their BWC during any police incident where citizen contact is made or anticipated.” Some examples of those incidents are crimes in progress, traffic stops, detentions, arrests, transports, or any type of search or seizure.

 

  • Does the BPD employ evidence-based police de-escalation training?

We do. Our current de-escalation model was developed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and is called ICAT, or Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics. The BPD was one of the pilot agencies that partnered with PERF to roll out the training model back in 2016, which is now used and followed by over 80 agencies across the country. We now have multiple officers within the BPD who are ICAT Instructors and they provide annual training throughout the Department. (Here is a link to the story from 2016 when we first partnered with PERF and began training our officers. See: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2016/09/15/burlington-police-training-deescalation/90357496/)

 

  • Does the BPD employ racial bias training? What exactly does that training entail?

Yes. Training is mandated by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council and Vermont Legislature relating to Fair and Impartial Policing and varies from year to year so it can evolve with current trends as well as provide meaningful recurring training. Officers have daily meetings with leadership and often discuss recent interactions to ensure consistent conduct. In recent years we have also had training by Dr. Bryant Marks on Implicit Bias, and similar training by CQ Strategies, as well as recurring training on Fair and Impartial Policing Policies. We also sent a group of officers to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The goal of this trip was to gain perspective into the black experience in America, as well as to understand law enforcement’s role in that experience. It was a journey undertaken in an effort to be and do better for our community.

 

  • What happens when officers use force during encounters with members of the public?

Police officers are authorized by law to use objectively reasonable force in the completion of their duties. Context is important here. For the BPD, a use of force means any act beyond noncompliant handcuffing, from a grab to a discharge of a firearm. Use of force occurs in two-thirds of one percent of all incidents—i.e., in 0.66% of incidents. Officers are required to intervene if they witness excessive force by another officer. All uses of force must be reported and each use of force is reviewed by specially trained personnel and supervisors. If an incident appears to be outside our training or our guidelines, or if a significant injury occurs, it will be investigated further. That may include referring the incident to our State’s Attorney or the Vermont Attorney General for review; if warranted, those offices can charge an officer criminally. If an investigation determines that a use of force was not criminal but did violate the BPD’s directives, an officer may be disciplined in accordance with their union contract. Depending on the nature of the violation, discipline may range from remedial training to termination. Our “Use of Force” directive, DD05, can be found here: Department Directive 05 - Use of Force.

 

  • Does the BPD use chokeholds?

No. BPD officers are trained to recognize and defeat neck restraints in the Vermont Police Academy’s ground-fighting course, but the BPD’s Use-of-Force directive states “Any neck restraint technique should be used only under circumstances that warrant the use of lethal force.”

 

  • Are there any other preventative measures the BPD takes to ensure the FAIR treatment of ALL of Burlington’s citizens?

Yes, there are a number of preventative measures. These include:

  • The BPD is overseen by the Burlington Police Commission.  The Commission is made up of seven member from within Burlington, appointed by the City Council with the Mayor presiding.  Members have no ties to the Department, but work together with BPD Command members not only to ensure the BPD is abiding by Department Directives and City Rules & Regulations, but also to ensure it is following the principles of fair and impartial policing within the city.  The Commission provides input to and reviews complaints against any agency member and plays a vital role in reviewing citizen complaints.  
  • Citizens can file complaints anonymously, and these complaints are reviewed by the Chief of Police and the citizen Police Commission.  All citizen complaints, even anonymous complaints, are reviewed and thoroughly investigated. 
  • There are many Department Directives that address officer conduct and how we treat those we serve.
  • In addition to those directives, the BPD places high emphasis on connecting with the community and working with community partners to educate and train our officers. 

 

  • How does the BPD connect with the community it serves?

The BPD connects with the Burlington community in many ways and strives to reach to our community partners as a first means of policing. We have a community affairs unit that includes an officer and a trained social worker. We employ another social worker as our Addiction, Mental Health, and Homelessness Operations Manager. We have a trained Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. We have two officers dedicated to roles as School Resource Officers, where they forge deep connections with our city’s youth. We hold frequent meetings for members of the clergy and other community stakeholders. And each year, we run a Community Academy for those interested in learning more about the police department and how it works. It is usually held in January and February. If you are interested, see more here: Burlington Police Department Community Academy.

In September 2019, the City of Burlington also created the position of Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (REI&B) to further the City’s work on racial equity and inclusion. In February, Mayor Weinberger appointed Director Tyeastia Green. The BPD works with Director Green on specific incidents as well as issues related to much larger conversations about how we can connect with and serve members of Burlington’s BIPOC community.

 

The BPD has also received communications from Burlingtonians and many non-residents about three officers who were involved in specific use-of-force incidents in 2018 and 2019. We are aware there is an online petition about these three incidents, as well. All three incidents were reviewed by prosecutors, by external investigators, and by the BPD. None was found to be criminal. Discipline was imposed in all three incidents, in accordance with the City of Burlington’s rules for employees and union contracts. Employment law (and fundamental fairness) does not allow the City to go back and impose additional discipline. There are no new facts that would warrant re-opening the employment actions. All three officers remain employed by and are valued members of the BPD. Two of these incidents are currently subject to civil tort complaints; those complaints are in active pending litigation and their allegations have not been proven. Regarding the third incident, you can see a thorough explanation of BPD’s review process in this press release.

 

The Burlington Police Department’s Department Directives are available for your review. 

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