“We need structural and cultural transformation of law enforcement in this country and in Burlington, and to forge a new consensus on the future of public safety here,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a Friday press release. “Our new Police Chief will play an essential leadership role in that work.”
Weinberger pledged to involve residents in the hiring process. This month, the mayor will host a series of "stakeholder meetings" to help determine the chief's priorities in the first year on the job. He'll also visit each Neighborhood Planning Assembly meeting; consult with leaders in education, social services and business; and meet with organizations led by Black, Indigenous and other people of color, according to the press release.
The city has also launched a survey, where participants can rate various potential qualities in a new chief — such as "an unwavering commitment to transparency" and "an understanding of structural racism" — on a scale of importance. Survey-takers can also submit questions they'd like candidates to answer in the interview process. The questionnaire is open until June 4.
Weinberger's administration will publish the feedback in a "public engagement report," which will be used to compile a new job description for the top cop. The mayor will then form a search committee of up to 11 members, which will include two police commissioners and two city councilors, in June. Unlike in past searches, one community member will be chosen to serve on the committee. The application is open through May 30.
The committee will begin interviewing applicants in July, with Weinberger aiming to name a finalist for council approval in September.
The city has been without a permanent police chief since December 2019, when former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned following a social media scandal that also quickly took down his then-deputy chief, Jan Wright. Former Colchester chief Jennifer Morrison stepped in as interim chief from December 2019 to June 2020, when she took a personal leave to care for her husband.
Morrison had planned to return to the post and serve until the city could restart its search for a permanent chief, but she resigned last September, citing frustrations with the Progressive-led city council's decision to cut the police force by 30 percent. Deputy Chief Jon Murad has been leading the department since.
In the meantime, several Queen City cops have left the ranks, and the city has seen a groundswell of activism around policing matters. Protesters occupied Battery Park, next door to police headquarters, for more than a month last summer to demand that officers accused of using excessive force be held accountable. Late last year, Weinberger vetoed a proposed police oversight model that would have given a citizen board the authority to override the police chief's disciplinary decisions.
Months later, the city has still not forged a consensus on public safety. The city has hired two consultants to assess police department operations and gather community feedback about the future of policing; that work is ongoing.
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said on Friday that he was heartened to see Weinberger had invited community input on both the job description and the search committee. He is hopeful the process will be inclusive.
"It's one thing to get that feedback, but it's entirely another to actually take that feedback," Tracy said. "If we're asking folks to engage with us around this process, we have to be willing to really hear their feedback."