Kyle Dodson at his introductory press conference last September
Updated on March 29, 2021.
The City of Burlington’s director of police transformation plagiarized significant portions of a final report he turned in last week, according to an analysis by Seven Days.
Kyle Dodson was appointed by Mayor Miro Weinberger last October to oversee the city’s police reform efforts. He took a six-month leave of absence from his job as CEO and president of the Greater Burlington YMCA for the special assignment, which was to end April 1.
Dodson turned in his final report on March 19. The document — sent to city councilors and police commissioners on Thursday and obtained by Seven Days — borrowed liberally from several websites, including those of the City of Cambridge, Mass., and Georgetown Law school.
Dodson included links, but didn’t actually attribute some of these passages. Other sections that appeared to be Dodson’s own analysis were actually lifted from elsewhere, with no acknowledgment of the original source. A Seven Days review found that more than half of the document’s 1,542 words were not Dodson’s own.
“The way that I saw it was as a resource for the mayor to look to things that I learned to be helpful and not in any way to present them as ‘Kyle the guru of policing,’” Dodson said in an interview Friday. “Any of that was probably just, at the end of the day, [an] oversight.”
“There was no intent to have it be seen as something that was mine,” he continued. “It’s just something that I didn’t take the time to reference.”
In a statement Friday evening, after Seven Days published its initial story, Weinberger said he was disappointed to learn that “much of the language in Kyle Dodson’s final report was not his own.
“It is critical that City employees follow professional standards regarding citations and sourcing so that our work can be evaluated and judged, and so that innovations and ideas are properly credited,” the mayor continued.
It's unclear if Dodson turned in other reports or other work products during his tenure. He was paid $75,000 for the six-month gig, a pay rate higher than all but seven other city employees, including the school district, according to wage information included in the city’s 2020 annual report.
If he'd been paid the same rate across an entire year, Dodson would have made a higher annual salary than the mayor, fire chief, police chief and city attorney.
Dodson said he realized that Burlington wasn’t ready to talk about how to transform policing but chose not to write that in his report. Otherwise, the document “would have been 100 pages long,” he said.
“I didn’t have the time to do it, and I didn’t think it would be worth it, because I didn’t expect anyone to read it or listen because no one seemed to care,” Dodson said.
The issue of policing has been the biggest flashpoint between Weinberger and the city council's six-member Progressive caucus. And Dodson’s appointment was immediately controversial. Progressive councilors saw Dodson’s hiring as a unilateral move by Weinberger, who didn’t seek input before bringing Dodson on board.
Weinberger had lauded Dodson, a Black man, as someone who would help the city’s racial justice work. The mayor said Dodson’s hiring came at “a critical moment” in Burlington, where protesters had occupied a city park for a month to demand police accountability.
“Kyle is a tremendous leader," Weinberger said at a press conference announcing Dodson’s role late last September. “I know he can do this work, and I'm grateful for him lending his considerable experience, skill and vision to oversee this work and make good on the promise of this moment.”
Dodson, a former Burlington school commissioner, has led the YMCA since 2016. Before that, he served as an administrator at Champlain College and a school principal. Seven Days previously reported that Dodson has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from the University of Vermont, an MBA in finance and management from Columbia University and a history degree from Harvard University.
Dodson was tasked with overseeing a functional assessment of the police department, a study to reimagine public safety in Burlington and a review of police discipline procedures. In January, after Weinberger vetoed a council proposal to create a stronger citizen oversight board, the mayor asked Dodson to write a report with recommendations for better officer training. He also asked Dodson to share insight on how to “forge reconciliation” between police and Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
The report, however, includes little documentation of Dodson’s progress on any of those goals. And much of the analysis that Dodson did provide was plagiarized.
In one section, Dodson reflected that “division serves to immobilize, as it increases both anger and hurt of all involved, citizens and police officers alike.” That exact sentence can be found on the website LawfareBlog.com, in a post called “Measurement Matters: The Key to Police Reform.” The article was published in August 2020.
Seven Days ran Dodson’s report through a plagiarism checker on a website called Small SEO Tools. The site provided links to the text’s original sources, including LawfareBlog.
In the article, authors Ava J. Abramowitz and Catherine H. Milton — a lecturer at George Washington University Law School and a former assistant director of the Police Foundation, respectively — mused that cities must consider what role police should have in their communities.
“It is the question today, and it has to be debated precinct-by-precinct and resolved department-by-department,” they wrote. “It is not an issue to be determined by citizens alone. Police need to speak up. They have knowledge that all of society needs to learn.”
Dodson’s version was almost verbatim, though he changed certain words.
“It is the question that Burlington faces and it has to be debated neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and resolved street-by-street,” he wrote. “It is not an issue to be determined by citizens alone. Police need to speak up. They have knowledge that all of us have to learn.”
The revelation comes several days after Weinberger took heat for appointing Darren Springer, a white man in charge of Burlington Electric Department, to oversee a key policing study instead of Tyeastia Green, the city’s director of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
The mayor changed course after public backlash, and Green — the city’s only Black department head — is back at the helm.
Dodson said he was often frustrated on the job, which embedded him in the police department daily. When he told people that he’d seen officers’ humanity first-hand, some called him a sellout and a cop sympathizer, he said.
“The community didn’t want transformation. Blacks and activists want revenge,” Dodson said. “That’s understandable, but it’s deeply problematic.”
“The position was a set-up because our community is so divided,” he added. “The policies and procedures and the trainings — they don’t matter if the humans doing those things aren’t in a certain place. And the humans in this city, in my opinion, were not in a place yet to move forward.”
In his statement, Weinberger attempted to distance himself from some of Dodson’s comments, stressing that Dodson no longer works for the city and “is not speaking for me with his reported criticism of ‘Blacks and activists.’
“I approach these conversations with an open mind, hope and optimism for consensus, and a commitment on principle to the belief that everyone involved in these very challenging debates is seeking to create progress and a better community,” the mayor continued.
Other city officials had a much stronger reaction. After Seven Days published its findings about the report on Friday, the city’s Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging called on Dodson to apologize for his “irredeemable, unconscionable, and harmful” comments.
“Not only do we believe that this characterization of the community and many dedicated activists to be untrue, but we also recognize the immense harm this characterization has inflicted,” said the office, which is comprised of three Black people, including Green.
“Burlington’s Black community and the tireless advocates and activists who have engaged on these issues, do not want revenge – they want, and they deserve, respect and equitable treatment from the City that they love,” the statement continued. “Former Director Dodson’s report and subsequent comments were a step backward in pursuit of this shared goal.”
Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) said he was “appalled” that Dodson would say the city isn’t ready for change since activists have been engaged in police reform efforts for months.
“To paint this broad brush of ‘Blacks and activists want revenge’?” Hanson said. “That is so harmful and so offensive.”
Hanson also doesn’t buy the explanation that Dodson wasn't trying to pass off the work as his own.
“You don’t cite it, and then you’re changing it to match Burlington with those little wording changes? That is textbook plagiarism,” he said. “You are making it come off as if it was you, clearly.”
Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1), who met with Dodson weekly during his tenure, said she’d expected Dodson’s report to include data, citations and quotes from interviews he’d conducted. Hightower said she was skeptical that Dodson was accomplishing much but gave him the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s hard to do something as a one-man show, but [I thought] at least he will come up with some solid recommendations,” Hightower said. Instead, the report was “nothing,” she said. “Absolutely nothing.”
Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) was also disappointed by the report, saying it was “unprofessional” for Dodson “to copy and paste all the findings.” He had expected to read about the department’s staffing needs, options for police oversight and Dodson’s insight into officers’ experience on the job.
“I was looking for at least that from someone who spent time with police officers,” Dieng said.
At the same time, Dieng said he thinks Weinberger set Dodson up for failure by giving him just six months to perform the monumental task of transforming policing. He called Dodson’s appointment a “political move.”
Councilor Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) said it’s hard to judge Dodson’s performance because the report lacked detailed analysis. Asked if he thought Dodson made progress on reform but failed to communicate it in his report, Pine said: “That is the $75,000 question.
“Reading this report, I can't say that the community got a good return on that investment,” he continued.
In his statement, Weinberger said Dodson’s contributions to the city went beyond the written report. He noted that Dodson spent much of his time “organizing conversations between police officers and BIPOC community members, positively impacting the internal culture of the Police Department, and providing much-needed additional capacity for the Administration at a critical time.”
Still, the mayor said he would have preferred a report “that was more detailed and actionable.” He did not, however, say whether he had provided the same feedback to Dodson, nor did he say whether he’d asked his appointee to file a more thorough report.
The board of directors for the YMCA of Greater Burlington issued a statement on Monday in support of Dodson, who met with leadership to discuss the report.
"We have faith in Kyle’s ability to lead the Y with integrity and have confidence in his commitment to both the Y and greater Burlington community," board chair Lisa Ventriss wrote, noting that the nonprofit supported Dodson taking the leave so he could assist the city's anti-racism efforts, "an urgent need in our community."
"We recognized then, and appreciate now even more, the complexity of this work, the risks associated with such transformational effort, and that progress is neither easy nor linear," the statement says.
Dodson will return to work after he recovers from "a long-planned orthopedic procedure," Ventriss wrote.
Reached Friday evening, Councilor Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) said he wasn’t prepared to answer questions about Dodson’s report because he hadn’t read it yet.
Councilors Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4), Perri Freeman (P-Central District), Karen Paul (D-Ward 6), Joan Shannon (D-South District) and Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) did not immediately respond to interview requests. City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said he was on a work deadline and not available for comment.
Sasha Goldstein and Colin Flanders contributed reporting.