Burlington Police Commission to Review New Use-of-Force Policy | Off Message

Burlington Police Commission to Review New Use-of-Force Policy

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Mayor Miro Weinberger and Deputy Chief Jon Murad last December - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger and Deputy Chief Jon Murad last December
The Burlington Police Commission will hold an emergency meeting next week to fast-track the adoption of a new use-of-force policy for Queen City cops.

"I feel considerable urgency to put this new policy in place," Mayor Miro Weinberger said during a Friday press conference.

The mayor announced the plan as the nation continues to reckon with the death of George Floyd, who was killed last month in Minneapolis police custody.



Interim police Chief Jennifer Morrison implemented two provisions of the proposed policy earlier this week: Officers must now intervene when they witness misconduct or excessive force, and they must deescalate situations as much as possible.

"Whenever possible, officers will seek to slow things down. Not every situation or subject can be deescalated," the policy reads. "Conversely, officer behavior can escalate a situation. Officers should not intentionally escalate situations unnecessarily."

Deputy Chief Jon Murad said the current policy mentions deescalation just once, but the proposed version does 18 times.

"When we can give more emphasis to the things that matter to us, it really does affect the way in which officers work in the field," he said.

The new policy is based on a report penned by the city's Committee to Review Policing Policies, which was convened last summer after numerous incidents of police brutality led to calls for reform. In February, the committee submitted a seven-page report to the city council including recommendations for a new use-of-force policy. Murad said all of the policy suggestions are incorporated into the proposal that the commission will review next Tuesday.
 The proposed policy also adopts the principles in the now-viral 8 Can't Wait campaign, such as banning choke holds and requiring officers to report when they use or threaten force, among others. Murad said many of those guidelines are in current policy, "but they're much more clearly stated now."

The proposed policy says "excessive force will not be tolerated" and categorizes it as a "higher-level infraction" that may result in criminal or civil liability or termination from the department. It also clearly states that "lethal force should be a last resort."

The policy would also prohibit officers from shooting at or from a moving vehicle unless a suspect is deliberately trying to drive into a person. It also codifies that officers "have an affirmative duty to care for persons in their custody," including providing or calling for medical attention.

"The Police Commission will convene an emergency meeting next week to review, amend, and consider adopting this new use of force policy, even as the Commission or City Council may simultaneously launch a longer review to further refine the policy," the city said in a press release after the briefing.

Police reform advocates have criticized the 8 Can't Wait campaign in recent days, arguing that its principles don't stop police violence. Minneapolis police, for instance, had a "duty to intervene" policy on the books, yet three cops involved in detaining Floyd didn't stop their fellow officer from kneeling on the man's neck. Those officers have since been charged with aiding and abetting Floyd's murder.

In Burlington, activists have called for the city to defund the police department. Lydia Kern, one of a dozen people who Zoomed in to Thursday night's Board of Finance meeting, said any other attempt at reform "perpetuates fear and violence in our community."
Police Commissioner Randall Harp, who chaired the special committee, said the policy is comprehensive but can't solve every problem. He said most people who file complaints with the police commission aren't alleging that cops violated a policy but rather that the officer mistreated them. A policy alone can't teach cops to treat people with respect, Harp said.

"The policy is important, and it's good, and I look forward to adopting it, but of course there's more work to be done," he said. "We look forward to doing that."

The police commission gained new leadership this week when members voted Jabulani Gamache as chair. He takes the place of Michele Asch. In taking the helm, Gamache warned that the advisory board would need to have "hard and uncomfortable conversations" in the weeks ahead.

Read the draft policy here: