Mayor&Rsquo;S Office

October 2020: Moving Forward With Policing in Burlington

October 2020
Moving Forward With Policing in Burlington: New Actions This Week


The events of this summer have made unmistakably clear that, as a country and a community, we are at a moment of crisis in policing that has been building for a very long time. In this moment, we must forge a new consensus on how we want to police Burlington. We have an opportunity and responsibility to finally root systemic racism out of all of our institutions, including policing, and deliver our Black and brown residents the fairness, safety, and solidarity that they are due. Simultaneously, we must continue to value and support the brave men and women of the Burlington Police Department who are committed to and have done so much to keep Burlington a safe and thriving place.

This week, the City took a number of actions to resolve this challenging moment and refocus on forging that new consensus. First, on Monday, the City Council approved a separation agreement with Sergeant Jason Bellavance, one of the three officers who was involved in controversial use of force incidents in the fall of 2018 and early 2019. I supported this action because of Sergeant Bellavance’s actions and his position within the department, and I do not support separation agreements with the other two officers. You can read my full statement about this on the City website. It is my hope that through this agreement, the City can bring some measure of resolution to past incidents that have received so much focus over the last 18 months.

Also this week, on Friday, I announced a series of new mayoral actions to accelerate and advance the City’s work to forge a new consensus on policing in Burlington. The largest of these is that I appointed Kyle Dodson, the President and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA, to a new, temporary position of Director of Police Transformation. Kyle will report directly to me, and he will lead the City’s work to reimagine policing and oversee our planning, policy, and engagement efforts during a critical period when we are undertaking an operational assessment of the Department, and working with the Police Commission and City Council on a number of other reviews and planning efforts aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to our police training, discipline and governance systems.

Why am I doing this? The work that we have to do to reimagine policing is hard, and it’s work that no American community has fully figured out. To get it right, I realized that I needed to both expand the City’s capacity to get the work done, and bring in perspectives from Burlington’s BIPOC community and from outside of law enforcement. Kyle is a tremendous leader, and I’m grateful to him for lending us his considerable experience, skill, and vision to lead this work and help us make good on the promise of this moment.

I also announced on Friday five additional actions designed to complement the work around policing to which the City has already committed and respond to concerns raised by Burlingtonians in recent weeks. These actions include changing the process for police disciplinary decisions in a manner that formally involves the mayor, to reviewing our contract with the police union, to requesting a new body camera footage release policy, to creating a pilot program to add employees with social work backgrounds to the Police Department. You can read more about all of these items on the City website.

As we move forward in this work, I want to call on our community to see police officers themselves as partners in it. On one level, this is practical: Long-term change in policing culture and practice requires buy-in and support from Burlington police officers. On another level, even as we’re rethinking our systems, we’re also talking about dozens of individual officers who have devoted themselves to the very hard job of solving crimes, responding to violent situations, and keeping our community safe, even as their profession and indeed that definition of safety is rapidly changing. We must find a way to support, value, and engage our sworn officers, and include them in the new consensus we are forging on what public safety means – and the work itself will be better and more enduring as a result.

Burlington is an amazing community that for decades has repeatedly found ways to lead the nation in addressing directly the challenges of our time, from the climate emergency, to the opioid crisis, to the public health threats of the coronavirus pandemic. I look forward to working alongside the entire Burlington community to ensure that we forge this kind of progress in policing as well.