Weinberger defends handling of Burlington police social media controversy

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Mayor Miro Weinberger is defending his administration’s handling of a social media controversy that resulted in two leadership changes in one day at the Burlington Police Department.

Weinberger said Tuesday that the “problematic use” of fake accounts by senior police officials suggests the practice might be widespread. He said he would hire a consultant to review the department’s social media activity and practices.

“I think the best thing I can say is we’re taking action to address it,” Weinberger said. “In areas where we do need outside help like this culture of social media, I’ve committed to bringing in an outside expert.”

Police Chief Brandon del Pozo resigned Sunday after admitting he created a fake Twitter account to taunt local activist and Howard Center employee Charles Winkleman and then lied about it to a reporter. Weinberger was told about the account, @WinkleWatchers, in July, but kept the details under wraps for months until it was reported that del Pozo was behind it.

Hours after Weinberger announced del Pozo’s resignation on Monday, the new acting chief, Deputy Chief Jan Wright, informed Weinberger that she had used a Facebook account under the pseudonym “Lori Spicer.” In one post, “Spicer” told Winkleman that del Pozo was “in his head” and “needed help.”

City Attorney Eileen Blackwood has been asked to review Wright’s posts on in detail and report back by the end of the week.

Three days after admitting that he taunted a Burlington resident through an anonymous Twitter account, Brandon del Pozo resigned. Shortly after Jan Wright was named acting chief, she admitted that she also operated an anonymous account under the name ‘Lori Spicer’.

Calls for Weinberger to resign over the controversy arose at Monday’s City Council meeting and in a protest outside the council chamber. Vicki Garrison with the Vermont Peace and Justice Center said it’s an issue that runs deeper than anonymous social media accounts.

“This is a systems issue that must be exposed, accounted for and changed in order for there to be respectable leadership in Burlington, equality and justice for all community members,” Garrison said.

Weinberger said he spent “a good chunk” of Tuesday thinking about the process of appointing del Pozo’s replacement. While he’s praised del Pozo’s tenure as a period of progress and innovation for the department, it’s time for new leadership, he said.

“Any time you bring in a new chief, there’s also an opportunity to address areas you can get better, and I’m sure that will be at the heart of the search process for a new chief,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger has appointed Deputy Chief Jon Murad as acting chief. He told city officials that he has never engaged in anonymous social media posting.

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