Response to Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Appointment of Director of Police Transformation & “Five New Actions on Policing”

By Mark Hughes & Members of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance remains committed to the work of implementing Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. as articulated and in the June 29th, Burlington City Council Resolution. Restructuring public safety, Implementing cultural empowerment, Securing equal opportunity and Enabling racial equity inclusion and belonging are ALL still our priorities.  The  Mayor’s recent appointment of a new Police Transformation Director (The Director) and his “Five Additional Actions on Policing” are problematic, primarily because they don’t go beyond restructuring public safety. The work of dismantling symbolic systemic racism in city government requires a commitment that extends beyond social and political differences on policing.  True commitment must be given to addressing the whole of government and the cultural and economic dimensions outlined in R.I.S.E.   

Another shortcoming of the Mayor’s approach is that the planning and appointment was done bilaterally with the Burlington police Department, at the exclusion of the Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, the City Council, the Joint Committee of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee and Police Commission, the Public Safety Committee, the Change Charter Committee and the Police Commission “the other stakeholders”.  This approach circumvented and undermines the inclusive and earnest efforts of the other stakeholders that are advancing the ongoing work.  The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, and the community have been in good faith providing continuous input to the Joint Police Commission and Public Safety Committee on ensuring public engagement, a functional assessment of the Police Department and re-envisioning of public health and safety.  

Our concerns surrounding the Mayor’s “Five New Actions on Policing” are material, beyond process. The “Five New Actions on Policingcollectively create executive cover for the Burlington Police Department. These solutions supplant the Police Commission’s authority; close out other stakeholders; create false deadlines; set dangerous precedents; and pass the buck.

  • The Executive Order supplants the Police Commission’s recently released policy and their authority in the complaint process and delays their visibility into related complaints until late in the process.
  • The decision to assign the City Attorney to work with the Police Officers Association (POA) to review the contract closes other important stakeholders out of the discussions, potentially jeopardizing the ability to have a more robust and meaningful engagement.  With a contract till June 2022, the November deadline is unnecessary.
  • The recommendation for the Police Commission to approve body camera footage release policy is top loaded. A “Concepts and Principles” document was pre-prepared by the Deputy Chief, the Mayor and the City Attorney with another unnecessary deadline (end of October).
  • The proposal for the Community Service Liaison in the form of social workers in the police department creates a dangerous precedent and blurs the line between policing and social services at a time when community members are asking for clearer separation of roles.
  • The proposal for the Police Commission to create a policy for release of investigations into officer conduct passes the buck on work that clearly should be addressed through a full outside assessment of the department and engagement with the POA and City Attorney.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has been working in good faith with all of the other stakeholders, including the Police Department and the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Director to ensure the full implementation of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E.  The Mayor’s bilateral work with the Burlington Police Department in the creation of the Director position and “Five New Actions on Policing” does not indicate his willingness to do the same.  

The mission of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. is to transform the lives of black and brown people by investing in their lives, holding space for their culture, providing them opportunity and ensuring the equity they deserve to thrive.  All of the work that we are doing started as a result of a double pandemic – COVID-19 and ongoing murder and violence of BIPOC at the hands of the Police. Police violence against BIPOC with impunity is a symptom of a larger sickness of a nation.  We must heal the sickness while we address the symptom.

We will continue to do our work with the City of Burlington in good faith. We implore the Mayor to show himself as a fully committed and trustworthy partner in the work of protecting BIPOC bodies; focus on the “I, S and E” in R.I.S.E. with urgency; and collaborate with the other stakeholders to synthesize his approach to comport to and support the work already underway.

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