Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Jennifer Morrison Release Updated Use of Force Policy and Urge Swift Adoption 

June 5, 2020 
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia 
                (802) 734-0617 

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Jennifer Morrison Release Updated Use of Force Policy and Urge Swift Adoption 

Administration will work closely with Police Commission as Commission convenes an emergency meeting next week to review new policy; New policy includes all use of force recommendations made by City’s Special Committee to Review Policing Policies; When adopted Burlington policy will include all of the #8CantWait reforms; Mayor Weinberger signs President Obama’s Mayors Pledge  

Burlington, VT -- Today, Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Jennifer Morrison released a draft, new Use of Force Policy and urged its swift adoption. The Administration will work closely with the Police Commission to adopt a new use of force policy as quickly as it can. The draft policy includes all of the recommendations made by the Burlington Special Committee to Review Policing Policies which met from August, 2019 through February, 2020. The Burlington Police Department's current use of force policy lags behind its training and practices, and the new draft policy is more consistent with the values of the Burlington community, is clearer for officers to follow, and incorporates many of the best practices of American policing – including all eight of the #8CantWait reforms on police use of force that are part of President Obama’s Mayors Pledge. 

“The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers has again exposed that our country continues to be defined by deep and structural racism,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “It also has again brought into focus the many real problems that exist in American policing. In Burlington, we have for years been working to chart a different path, and build a police department that reflects the values of our community and embraces the forward-thinking policies and practices of 21st century policing. At the same time, we can and must do better. By adopting this new, clear, progressive use of force policy we take an immediate and meaningful additional step to improve our practices, and to show others the path toward better American policing. We are committed to additional critical improvements and further steps with the Council, Commission, and public in the months ahead.” 

“We have been working for months to develop this new Use of Force Directive for the Burlington Police Department, and believe that once adopted and implemented, it will be one of the most comprehensive and forward-thinking use of force policies in the nation,” said Chief of Police Jennifer Morrison. “This policy is the result of months of public engagement and work by the Special Committee to Review Policing Policies. I am looking forward to working with the Police Commission to adopt it as quickly as we can, because I agree with many in our community that these changes can no longer wait.” 

Mayor Weinberger, City Council President Max Tracy, Public Safety Committee Chair Perri Freeman, and multiple Police Commissioners have been in active communication this week to determine a path to finalizing the policy. The Police Commission will convene an emergency meeting next week to review, amend, and consider adopting this new use of force policy, even as the Commission or City Council may simultaneously launch a longer review to further refine the policy. 

Background and Key Elements of New Use of Force Policy 

From August 2019 to February 2020, the Special Committee to Review Policing Policies, a 14-person and multi-stakeholder group, held twice-monthly public meetings that focused in large part on reviewing and revising Burlington’s use of force policy. They delivered a report on their work to the City Council on February 18, but plans for a further report in March were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The current draft use of force policy incorporates recommendations and corrections that were contained in the Committee’s presentation to the Council in February. 

The new policy contains many key elements, and incorporates clear requirements for de-escalation, duty to intervene, verbal warnings, and reporting all uses of force. These elements include: 

1) De-escalation: The new directive defines de-escalation at length, and states clearly: “When feasible, officers will use de-escalation and other techniques to reduce the immediacy of threats to peoples’ safety and stabilize incidents. Whenever possible, officers will seek to slow things down. Not every situation or subject can be deescalated. Conversely, officer behavior can escalate a situation. Officers should not intentionally escalate situations unnecessarily” (DD05.01 III.A). 

2) Chokeholds: The new directive states: “Any restraint or technique that applies pressure to the carotid artery, jugular vein, trachea, or the neck that may render the subject unconscious by restricting airflow or the flow of blood to and from the brain is to be AVOIDED and should be used ONLY under circumstances that would otherwise warrant the use of lethal force” (DD05.02 IV.B.1). 

3) Duty to intervene and excessive force: The new directive states: “Using excessive force is a ‘higher-level infraction’ as defined by the Agreement Between City of Burlington and the Burlington Police Officers’ Association. It may result in criminal and civil liability and will result in department discipline, up to and including termination” (DD05.05 II.G.1). The directive also clearly outlines that officers have a duty to intervene: Failure to intervene in the use of excessive force is a higher-level infraction as defined by the Agreement Between City of Burlington and the Burlington Police Officers’ Association. It may result in criminal and/or civil liability. It will result in department discipline, up to and including termination” (DD05.01 III.E). 

4) Shooting at moving vehicles: The new directive prohibits discharging a firearm at or from moving vehicles, with two extreme exceptions. It states: “An officer will not discharge a firearm at or from a moving vehicle unless: 1. The vehicle is operated in a manner deliberately intended to strike a person, and all other reasonable means of defense have been exhausted (or are not present or practical), which includes moving out of the path of the vehicle; or 2. A person in the vehicle is threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle” (DD05.03 IV.B). 

5) Force continuum: The new directive outlines a seven-step continuum, beginning at “officer presence/verbal commands” and culminating in “firearms or other lethal force.” It also states: “When an officer determines that the use of force is necessary and appropriate to respond to resistance, keep people safe, and/or accomplish lawful law-enforcement objectives, the officer shall only use objectively reasonable force as determined by totality of circumstance” (DD05.02 IV). 

6) Exhaust all reasonable means prior to deadly force: The new directive states clearly, “Lethal force should be a last resort. When time permits, officers should exhaust all other reasonable means, or a situation must exclude all other reasonable means.” 

7) Verbal warnings prior to the use of force: The new directive requires verbal warnings prior to use of force. It states: “When time permits and it is safe to do so, an officer should: 1. Make reasonable efforts to identify himself/herself as a police officer; 2. Inform the subject of the reason for the law-enforcement encounter; 3. State by what authority the subject is being detained, arrested, or otherwise taken into custody; 4. Offer clear instructions describing what the subject must do to comply; 5. Make clear statements about what consequences may attach for lack of compliance; 6. Warn that force may be used, unless the officer has the objectively reasonable belief that verbal warning will jeopardize the officer or another person; 7. Document their verbal commands; When multiple officers are at an incident, verbal commands work best when delivered by one designated officer, or ‘contact officer’” (DD05.02 IV.A).

8) Reporting every use of force: The new directive states: “Officers have an affirmative duty to report all uses of force. Accurate, timely reporting facilitates ethical leadership and oversight. Officers also have a duty to report force used against them, in order to paint an accurate picture of the risks they face and of subjects’ behavior. Reporting officers’ uses of force and subjects’ resistance enhances transparency, which is a key part of maintaining community trust and police legitimacy” (DD05.01 III.H). Because pointing a firearm or TASER is considered a use of force, we also require reporting those “threats” of force. 

Burlington Seeks to Do Policing Differently 

This policy follows years of work to address the real problems that exist in American policing, and seek to do policing differently here in Burlington. In recent years, the Burlington Police Department has taken a number of actions to embrace the principles of 21st century policing, including: 

  • Overhauling how BPD responds to acute mental health episodes following the troubling officer-involved death of Phil Grenon in 2016, including through policy, training, and acquisition of specialized equipment; 
  • Dramatically changing how BPD does traffic stops in order to better allocate officers’ time and reduce racial disparities in traffic stops; 
  • Collaborating with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and other agencies to create 10 Standards of Care for Policing the Opioid Epidemic, and establishing CommunityStat, a robust, multi-agency response to the opioid epidemic led by the Department and the Mayor that has contributed to a dramatic reduction in area overdose deaths over the last two years; 
  • Undertaking and publishing a major study of the recruitment and training of police officers of color; 
  • Making it easier for people to issue complaints about the conduct of police officers through an online form and in-person options available through community partners; 
  • Increasing the size of our civilian Police Commission in order to accelerating diversifying this group; 
  • Advocating for reforms in how new police officers are trained at the statewide Vermont Police Academy; 
  • Severing ties between the Burlington Police Department and the U.S. Department of Defense, so that unlike many police departments, the BPD does not accept any specialized military equipment; 
  • Codifying Burlington’s long-standing policy of not inquiring about immigration status while conducting routine policing 
  • Assigning an officer to be a Domestic Violence specialist within the department; 
  • And many others. 

Most recently, this week, Chief Morrison, at the request of Mayor Weinberger, also made explicit by order that going forward Burlington officers will have a duty to intervene if they witness misconduct, excessive use of force, or any other violation of department rule or policy. This “duty to intervene” is also part of the new use of force policy. 

This new use of force policy is an important next step. At the same time, having policies written down is not enough. For such policies to be meaningful, they must be backed by training and departmental culture. On top of formal trainings, officers have daily meetings with leadership and often analyze recent interactions together in order to learn from each other and ensure consistent conduct.  

Mayor Weinberger Signs On to President Obama’s Mayors Pledge, and New Policy Incorporates All Eight of the #8CantWait Reforms 

Today, Mayor Weinberger also announced that he has signed on to President Barack Obama’s Mayors Pledge. Dozens of constituents reached out to the Mayor’s Office asking Mayor Weinberger to sign on, and as discussed above, Burlington has already been engaged in a months-long process to take the actions that the pledge outlines: 1) Review police use of force policies, 2) Engage the community by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in the review, 3) Report the findings of the review to the community and seek feedback, and 4) Reform police use of force policies. 

Following the process with the Special Committee to Review Policing Policies, and further process that will occur with the Burlington Police Commission, Burlington is now at step four: reform police use of force policies. The new policy incorporates all eight of Campaign Zero and the Police Use of Force Project’s #8CantWait reforms. 

Please see: 
- Draft use of force policy [PDF]

Watch the recording of the press conference:

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Press Release Date: 
City Department: 
Mayor's Office