Burlington Police Face Pushback on Homeland Security Partnership | Off Message

Burlington Police Face Pushback on Homeland Security Partnership


Chief Brandon del Pozo - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Chief Brandon del Pozo
Burlington Police have had a formal partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security since 2004. But as the department attempts to amend that relationship, it’s encountering resistance from advocates for civil liberties and migrant workers.

Both sides made their cases in front of the Burlington City Council’s Public Safety Committee Monday night. The committee reviewed but did not vote on a proposed memorandum of understanding between city police and Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security .

One of the first things Brandon del Pozo did upon becoming Burlington’s police chief last September was sever ties with a controversial U.S. Department of Defense program that furnishes local police departments with surplus military equipment.

But Chief del Pozo is less willing to part ways with Homeland Security, whose resources, he argued, are important to the BPD’s human trafficking and narcotics investigations. When local investigations cross state lines, it’s helpful to have relationships with federal agents in those locations, he explained.

Among the other perks: The feds pay overtime costs for Burlington cops who work on joint cases, and allow their local counterparts to share in the proceeds from asset forfeitures.

But del Pozo argued that under the current memorandum of understanding, Burlington cops are constrained by their inability to request subpoenas, search warrants or other actions in federal court. Instead, they have to rely on federal agents to present their paperwork for them, creating a middle-man scenario that Burlington deputy chief of administration Jannine Wright likened to a game of telephone. Under the proposed MOU, Burlington police officers could do it themselves. 

Neither the current nor the proposed MOU would allow Burlington police officers to pursue immigration cases, and del Pozo assured councilors, “As a matter of principle we just will not do that.”

Still, members of the advocacy group Migrant Justice cautioned against maintaining any kind of relationship with an arm of federal government often associated with deportations.

“We have to be concerned about mission creep,” said Jay Diaz, a lawyer with the Vermont ACLU. Diaz also made the case that “we want to maintain local control over what our officers do” — meaning state, not federal, judges should preside over entreaties from Burlington police. 

Councilors will continue to review the MOU, and del Pozo signaled that he’s willing to compromise with his critics. 

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