Off the job since June, Jennifer Morrison told officials this week that she won't return as Burlington's interim police chief, citing frustrations that city councilors "are more interested in social activism than good governance."
Morrison laid out the reasons behind her decision in an email and letter she sent to Mayor Miro Weinberger on Sunday, about a month before she was to return from an unpaid leave to care for her husband, who received a stem cell transplant this summer.
"This journey has proved uncertain, prone to dramatic shifts, and exhausting," Morrison wrote. "It would be easy to just walk away by saying that our
medical situation doesn’t allow me to return, but that would not be the whole truth."
"Cutting the police budget ... without first evaluating support services is
unconscionable," Morrison wrote. "I could go on at great length about all the reasons this is wrong, but let me cut to the point and say that I believe the Burlington City Council has created circumstances that are antithetical to public safety."
Morrison has also used social media to criticize city councilors, but she did so using her real name. Her comments, posted last month on the Burlington Police Department's Facebook page, included similar language to what she wrote in her letter to Weinberger.
"No thought or expertise went into the decisions in BTV," Morrison commented on a now-deleted post. Councilors "have no expertise in public safety - only aggressive social activism platforms spoon fed by national organizations."
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said Morrison's decision to leave was probably for the best since her letter indicated "she's not prepared to work with the city council" to carry out reforms.
"The letter doesn't seem to recognize the crucial context of the impact systemic racism is having on people of color in our community," Tracy said. "I don't know how you look at the last several years in the city and see what's been going on at BPD and don't think that something has to change."
Morrison's decision comes at a time when the city is facing unprecedented pressure to fire three Burlington cops accused of violent behavior, particularly against young Black men. Demonstrators have gathered at City Hall and in Battery Park — next to police headquarters — every night for nearly two weeks. Weinberger has threatened to have police ticket protesters if they don't vacate the encampment at the park.
In her letter, Morrison acknowledged the "significant discord" in the community.
"It is my fervent hope that all relevant stakeholders will come together, without unattainable ultimatums, and work toward meaningful policy and operational reforms regarding public safety," she wrote.
In a statement Monday, Weinberger thanked Morrison for stepping in "during a very difficult time" for the department. Morrison had only planned to serve through this summer but agreed to stay on when Weinberger halted the search for a permanent chief during the coronavirus pandemic.The mayor said he'll miss Morrison's "skill, can-do attitude, and her candor."
Deputy Chief Jon Murad, who has served as acting chief in Morrison's absence, will continue in that role until the city names a permanent chief, according to Weinberger. The search is expected to begin in April 2021.
Tracy said the city's next police chief needs to be prepared to confront systemic racism in Burlington.
"That will mean change and change that could be very uncomfortable for someone used to sort of the typical way the police have functioned in this country," he said.