Last fall, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution to change the disciplinary system for the Burlington Police Department. The city’s Police Commission weighed in Wednesday night on just how the system should change.
The group has been working recently on an official response to a draft city ordinance on police accountability and oversight. That response will likely be sent to the council next week.
For the time being, any Burlington Police Commission hearing about a complaint against a BPD employee must take place in executive session, closed to the public. The city might be able to do away with that requirement.
“A number of civilian oversight bodies do hold their complaint hearings in public, even though the identities of people are confidential,” commission co-chair Stephanie Seguino said Wednesday night. “It seems to me that that’s something we’d want to further investigate, to learn about how they do that and whether that’s feasible here.”
If the commission changes a BPD policy, and the chief disagrees with that change, the group wants a specific time frame for the chief to present a case for not going along. The city’s current language governing presentation of such a case is vague.
“Replace ‘in a timely manner’ with ’15 days’,” Seguino said. “There should also be a process for the chief to request an extension, and this request should be public and should be accompanied by an explanation of the need for an extension.”
The group proposes that it be able to recommend coaching for officers that are the subject of complaints. It also wants the ability to provide feedback on proposed discipline.
“In reviewing some complaints, the issues are not only that there may be flaws with policies and directives, but that policies and directives may not have been followed,” Seguino said.
The Queen City paid a Virginia-based consulting firm $100,000 for last September’s functional and operational assessment of the BPD. The consultants from CNA noted that for all practical purposes, the police commission didn’t have any teeth.
“Embedded in every settled thing is power,” commission member Suzy Comerford said. “And that’s what we’re really facing in this whole situation is power, at every level.”
The Burlington Police Commission gets together again next Tuesday, April 26. It’ll vote at that meeting on whether to send the changes it discussed Wednesday night to the City Council.