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Burlington Policing Committee Recommends More Oversight, De-escalation

A Burlington Police car parked in downtown Burlington.
Liam Elder-Connors
VPR File
The "Special Committee To Review Community Policing Practices," formed in June, made a handful of recommendations for improving the Burlington Police Department's use-of-force policy and civilian oversight.

A committee focused on policing reforms in Vermont's largest city recommends emphasizing de-escalation in the department’s use-of-force policy and improving civilian oversight of police.

The 15-member "Special Committee to Review Community Policing Practices" issued its seven-page report this month.

Burlington City Council formed the group in June following several incidents last year in which officers allegedly used excessive force.

More from VPR: Lawsuits Allege Police Brutality By Burlington Officers, Videos Show Encounters[May 3, 2019]

While the committee’s mandate initially encompassed a wide range of issues including officer training, data collection and disciplinary processes, the council told the group to focus on the Burlington Police Department’s use-of-force policy and the police commission.

The report made a handful of suggestions. Committee Chair Randall Harp told the city council the group recommends making de-escalation a priority in the use-of-force policy.

“And emphasize that officer behavior can escalate the level of force required and it sanctions officers that do so,” he said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Recommendations for improving the Police Commission include clarifying how it receives complaints about the department.

"The committee recommends that the police commission also have some oversight capacity of the chief, if that's not already made explicit,” said Harp, who is also a member of the commission.

More from VPR: Burlington Police Chief Resigns, Department's Social Media Policy Under Review [Dec. 16, 2019]

The committee also suggested creating a policy governing when body camera footage should be publicly released, and it recommended officers be required to get more anti-bias training.

Recommendations from the committee were only included in the report if two-thirds of the group voted to pass them along. At the city council meeting Tuesday, some councilors expressed concern about that process.

“The super-majority requirement I think presented a process that resulted in a number of robust ideas being left on the cutting room floor," Councilor Brian Pine said. “We don’t even know what they are.”

More from VPR: As Burlington Police Face Scrutiny, City Leaders And Activists Call For Reform [June 12, 2019]

The council ultimately passed a motion that asked that members of special committee to compile any recommendations that failed to meet the two-thirds majority in a separate report, which will be submitted with the main findings.

The motion also referred the report to city council’s public safety committee, which will review all the findings and determine next steps.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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