Interim Chief Jennifer Morrison and Deputy Chief John Murad
The City of Burlington is pausing its search for a new police chief for a year as it waits out the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced during a press conference Friday.
Interim Chief Jennifer Morrison has agreed to stay on as Burlington's top cop until the search process reconvenes. She will, however, take an unpaid leave starting June 12 until late September or early October while she cares for her husband, who will undergo a stem cell transplant in Boston this summer.
Deputy Chief Jon Murad will serve as acting chief during that period, the mayor said.
"It really is not currently possible to conduct a robust search process that involves out-of-state candidates visiting Burlington and meeting with many stakeholders in the community," Weinberger said. "It's not clear when those conditions are going to change."
The city began a search in January to hire a replacement for former chief Brandon del Pozo, who resigned last December after admitting that he'd created an anonymous Twitter account to harass a police critic. Former deputy chief Jan Wright served in del Pozo's stead until she, too, revealed similar online behavior.
Morrison, who previously served the Burlington Police Department for 23 years, was brought on in December to steady the ship while the city investigated Wright's wrongdoings. Morrison suspended Wright for eight days after that internal probe revealed the deputy chief had made a handful of problematic posts, but Wright resigned shortly after local media turned up dozens more.
The city convened a search committee that was poised to review candidates' applications in early March when the coronavirus hit, Weinberger said.
"It's my strong sense that many candidates who would have been strong candidates for this position are now being called on to serve their own communities during this time of crisis," he said.
The city's search will resume in April 2021.
Weinberger said members of the city council and police commission welcomed the decision, only raising a concern that the city's work on police accountability continue in the absence of a permanent chief. This effort includes enacting recommendations from the city's Special Committee to Review Community Policing Practices to update the department's use-of-force policy, to improve officers' anti-bias training, and to bolster the police commission's oversight powers.
"We're going to keep working on that during this period," Weinberger said. "We're not just gonna tread water for the next year; we're gonna make progress."
Morrison reiterated on Friday that she doesn't intend to seek the permanent chief spot after her tenure ends.