BURLINGTON, Vt. – The City of Burlington Charter Change Committee is gathering feedback on possible changes to who makes and reviews police disciplinary decisions.
The committee will share the information they gather with city council next month, and the council could eventually bring a set of proposed changes to voters.
Although discussions are just beginning to take shape in the committee, dozens of Burlington residents called in with their thoughts on how the Burlington Police Department’s disciplinary process could be improved. Currently, the Chief of Police has sole authority over officer discipline.
“Take oversight and disciplinary action out of the hands of police, the perpetrators of violence, and into the hands of an independent public body who can act without bias,” said Whitney Bentley. “Ensure civilian representation on this independent body.”
The Burlington Police Commission currently has an advisory role in the disciplinary process, but many feel the commission needs more authority. Former Commissioner Mark Hughes recently resigned over concerns that the commission doesn’t have enough power.
Acting Chief Jon Murad said the commission has become increasingly involved in recent years, and he signaled a willingness to strengthen its role in the process.
“We routinely have incidents that are reported to members of the police commission, who come to us for additional information about it,” Murad said. “They’re proactively bringing it… I think we do need charter changes to clear up how it’s functioning right now, and codify ways we’ve already strengthened it, and strengthen it further perhaps.”
Hundreds of community members, including protestors at Battery Park, have called for a community control board with more authority over police department operations. Jay Diaz, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Vermont, echoed those demends.
“An entity that is transparent, meaningfully accountable, and democratic,” Diaz said. “It should have broad authority, not only to conduct discipline in a variety of matters that impact the public such as use of force, unlawful seizure and arrest, things like that.”
The charter change committee will continue to gather information and report to city council next month. If changes are eventually put forward to voters and approved, they would also need approval from the Vermont Legislature.
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