Morrison Won’t Return as Burlington Police Chief, Criticizes City Council on Way Out | Off Message

Morrison Won’t Return as Burlington Police Chief, Criticizes City Council on Way Out


Jennifer Morrison at a protest this summer - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Jennifer Morrison at a protest this summer
Updated at 2:07 p.m.

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."

Morrison said that the council's decision in June to reduce Burlington police staffing by 30 percent through attrition solidified her choice to not come back. Hundreds of racial justice advocates had called into public meetings to demand the cuts in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. The activists demanded that the city instead fund social services and other programs that help people of color.
"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."

Weinberger named Morrison —a retired Colchester police chief and former Burlington deputy chief — to the interim post in December 2019, just days after former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned for creating an anonymous Twitter account to harass a known police critic. Morrison replaced former deputy chief Jan Wright, who was given the reins until she, too, admitted to operating burner social media accounts to disparage city councilors and members of the public.

Jennifer Morrison's Facebook comments in August - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Jennifer Morrison's Facebook comments in August
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.

Read Morrison's full letter below:

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