Burlington Police Commission should have power “greater than an advisory role”: BPD assessment

Local News

If the City of Burlington follows one of the recommendations in the $100,000 police assessment it received last week, the Police Commission would be granted more power.

The police oversight group held a special meeting Wednesday night, five days after the assessment report came out. However, the commission did not take any public action during the meeting related to the document’s findings or recommendations.

All complaints against Burlington Police Department employees must be reported to the Police Commission. According to a formal policy adopted by the commission last year, that reporting must take place in an executive session, which is closed to the public.

Police Commission vice-chair Shireen Hart noted during the special meeting that Vermont public bodies can also go into executive session to have privileged, confidential discussions with an attorney. The commission members approved her motion for such a session.

“There’s a matter that we can discuss in executive session that we are not in a position — it would jeopardize us or other individuals if we were to have this discussion in an open forum at this point,” Hart said in reply to a direct question from Commissioner Suzy Comerford about the request for executive session.

“Good! I’m on the same page,” Comerford said. “Thank you.”

There’s no way to know precisely what the attorney-client conversation was about; the Police Commission did not return to an open forum after the executive session ended. However, the special meeting came less than a week after CNA’s operational assessment showed that the commission lacks the authority to act on complaints, as well as lacking any specific delineation of the powers it does have.

The consultants from CNA wrote, in part:

“…ultimate authority to accept or reject the Police Commission’s recommendations lies with the chief of BPD. This point was mentioned during interviews and was expressed as a limiting factor to the Commission’s oversight role.”

Accordingly, one of the report’s recommendations reads, in part:

“The City of Burlington should formalize the authority of the Police Commission, which should be greater than an advisory role, and clearly outline the reach of their responsibilities.”

The consultants also found Burlington’s police oversight structure lacking in community representation at every stage of the process. Acting BPD Chief Jon Murad has disagreed in writing with that conclusion.

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