Statement Delivered by Mayor Miro Weinberger at May 13, 2019 City Council Meeting

May 13, 2019
Contact:  Olivia LaVecchia
               (802) 734-0617

Statement Delivered by Mayor Miro Weinberger at May 13, 2019 City Council Meeting

Burlington, VT – At tonight’s City Council meeting, following a public forum and a presentation from Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo regarding the Department’s use of force policy, training, and reviews, Mayor Miro Weinberger delivered the following statement:

Thank you Chief del Pozo for that detailed presentation, and I want to thank everyone here for coming out tonight to have this important conversation together.

I want to start by acknowledging that the past few weeks have been challenging for the community and our police department. I empathize with the anguish and anger felt by those whose family members have been hurt in recent police incidents, and I understand why the public has been unsettled by the videos and images that have been released about them.

As public officials charged with both supporting and overseeing our police, we have a need to try to recognize and respond to the pain and anger these incidents have sparked, to understand what implications they have for our policing effort, and to chart a course forward. 

To that end, I would like to step back from the events of the past few weeks and remind us where we were in the summer of 2015, the last time we had a major discussion at this table about the future of Burlington policing.

That summer we had the task of hiring a new police chief in the middle of a watershed year in American policing. On the heels of terrible tragedies and injustice at the hands of police in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and elsewhere, President Barack Obama created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing and charged it with “identifying best practices and offering recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.”

The release of the Task Force’s final report in May 2015 exposed a deep rift in the leadership of American law enforcement among those who believed little change was needed, and those who believed extensive reform and re-engineering was critical.

I knew at the time where Burlington stood in that debate, and when I appointed Brandon del Pozo as Police Chief in July of that year, I asked the Council to confirm him, in part, because I knew he would be a reformer who built on the already strong foundation of the Burlington Police Department – a foundation that had been built by generations of strong leaders and committed officers. 

I wrote to the Council in advance of that vote that, “We are in the midst of an important and difficult national conversation about the future of policing in America and what changes to our practices are needed… the BPD, with its long-standing commitments to community policing and public engagement, is well ahead of most communities in addressing this challenge. However, as in all American cities, we have more work to do to protect public safety and maintain public trust in the years ahead. With del Pozo, I am confident that we have found an individual who has thought deeply about the challenge of providing public safety while prioritizing and protecting the rights of our residents.” After a considerable debate, the City Council agreed with this sentiment and unanimously confirmed Chief del Pozo.

The progress described in the report you just heard provides considerable context to the incidents that have been the focus of our attention in recent weeks. This report should reassure the community that we were right to place our confidence in this chief, and right to have faith in the men and women who wear the BPD uniform. Few police departments in the country have made comparable progress on these challenging policing issues over the last three and a half years.

At the same time, a central focus of 21st century policing is trust. The report opens with: “Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy. It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.”

While the Chief has demonstrated that the incidents we have been focused on recent weeks are not representative of our broader policing efforts, they have nonetheless damaged the trust between the police and this community. 

As a result, in the weeks and months ahead, we must find a way achieve two, interrelated goals: 1) to repair that trust between the community and the police, and 2) to continue advancing with our progressive policing agenda that that makes this community both safer and more just. 

To that end I propose, and the Administration will fully embrace and support, a focused and well-designed public engagement process. While there are numerous details that we need to sort through with the Council to get this engagement process right, my sense is that such a process should be guided by these principles:

1. The process should be led by a group that represents the whole community. We should create a group that includes the Administration, the City Council, and the Police Commission, and also community advocates and representatives of communities of color.

2. The police need to be included as an essential partner in this effort. Little long-term change in policing culture or practice is possible without buy-in and support from the men and women who put their lives on the line for the City.

3. The process should look broadly at our critical policing policies. Certainly the use of force policy should be reviewed and discussed, and in addition, officer training, information disclosure policies, civilian oversight structures, and officer wellness initiatives should also be considered.

4. This engagement process must be supported with resources and expertise. To ensure an effective process we should include professionals who have successfully completed public engagement efforts regarding policing elsewhere, and sufficient funds to complete this work in a timely and professional manner.

Again, getting this process designed right and started on the right foot will require considerable discussion and coordination among different members of the community and between the Administration and this Council. I look forward to engaging the Council in the days ahead in the hope that we can reach consensus on a path forward that will make the community safer and more united.

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