Joint committee on Burlington police reform meets, outlines short-term goals

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Burlington City Council Public Safety Committee held their first joint meeting with the Burlington Police Commission on Thursday to outline how they will work together to identify issues in local policing.

The joint committee is a new forum for debate on police reform. Its assessment of the BPD will eventually lead to a report with recommendations, but in the meantime the group is focusing on short-term issues like staffing and the possibility of having some service calls redirected to other first responders.

It’s long-term goals appear more open-ended. The committee elected City Councilor Zoraya Hightower as chair. She said a lot of the early work will be about gathering feedback.

“Hearing from the community in a way that is much more solution oriented and much more longterm than our public forum, I don’t think our public forum space is the right way to engage with the community,” Hightower said. “Engage with the community in ways that are like, ‘Let’s spend an hour talking about this topic,’ or “Let’s spend an hour engaging with these kinds of people.”

Interim Police Chief Jon Murad agreed that public feedback is important, but told the newly-formed committee he believes there’s some voices that are often ignored.

“Part of the challenge here is learning to hear other sides of each of these discussions,” Murad said. “There are a lot of people in the city who are concerned about what happens if we drop below certain numbers, and we have experienced some loss already.”

Councilor Franklin Paulino noted there’s one group that hasn’t had their thoughts heard.

“It would be really great at some point if the committee could hear from BPD employees anonymously,” Paulino said.

Murad called that a “great idea.”

“Figuring out how to do that would be very important,” he said. “I think they have a lot to say.”

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