An Open Letter From Burlington's Director of Police Transformation | Paid Post | City | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Dear Neighbor,

Kyle Dodson - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Kyle Dodson

My name is Kyle Dodson, and I'm the Director of Police Transformation for the city of Burlington. When I was offered this new, temporary position, I took a six-month leave of absence from my role as CEO/President of the Greater Burlington YMCA.

As a Black man and professional with a background outside of the law enforcement community, I'm tasked with helping to lead the City's work to forge a new consensus on policing in Burlington, one that will take into account the lived experiences and complaints from the city's Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

My effective start date was October 1. In the six weeks I've been on the job, I've learned a great deal.

I've consulted with experts in different police functions from across the country, many of them BIPOC leaders themselves (see sidebar). I have also had meetings and conversations with representatives from the local Racial Justice Alliance, the Burlington Police Commission, and the City Council. Additionally, I met with two different groups of BIPOC students from Burlington High School to hear their perspective and experiences on policing in Burlington.

After all of these conversations, one thing is exceedingly clear: Public safety is an incredibly complex undertaking!

In the last few years, we've all seen a succession of use-of-force abuses and police killings across the nation that have left the public horrified, and our BIPOC communities feeling deeply betrayed, traumatized and mistrustful. Racism and bias exist in our police departments because they exist in our society. Ours is a brutal history as it relates to the past — and present — of how white people treat communities of color. The Burlington Police Department has to publicly acknowledge the extent of systemic racism, and to commit themselves to the internal work necessary to become an anti-racist agency.

Yet, we know that in our community, and in communities across the nation, brave women and men get up every day, put on the uniform, and serve and protect the public in a selfless way.

How do we reconcile these competing truths?

I know that I alone can't resolve this seeming conundrum in the four and a half months that I have left in this post. Based on my many conversations, I have learned that there is a significant portion of our community who are eager for a transformed public safety function that is progressive, appropriately scaled, equitable, and informed by the expectations of the entire community.

This is not a process that can be owned by one person.

My role has given me a unique perspective on this situation. Because of the significant breakdown of trust and communication between the Burlington police and the community they serve, I am one of few people who has access to and connection with most of the "factions" involved.

Because I am embedded in the Burlington Police Department, I see the humanity therein. I have empathy for the perspective of what this moment is doing to the professionals in that building. That's led some of my BIPOC brothers and sisters to lose faith in me — a challenging, but not unexpected reaction.

There is no equivalency between the critique and censure that police are currently experiencing, and the brutal, sub-human treatment that white institutions and people have meted out to the Black community over 400 plus years. But after 54 years of living in Black skin and knowing what it means to be "othered," and scorned, and dehumanized, and disregarded, I can't imagine that doing the same to police officers is how we all get to a better place.

Police transformation is something that should involve our entire community. With the remainder of my time in this role, I do believe that I can help to facilitate a healing process, to help create the infrastructure for the sort of engagement and communication that a sustainable police transformation requires, and deserves.

In closing, I appeal to all of you out there to be part of this process that's already well under way. There's a lot in the mix, and the outcome of all of this work will be more legitimate, and more enduring, if it reflects the will of our community.

Sincerely,
Kyle Dodson


Experts Consulted

The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Hassan Aden, a BIPOC man who is former Chief of Police in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Deputy Chief of Police in Alexandria, Virginia. He currently runs the Aden Group and has served on the monitoring teams in Seattle, Cleveland, and Baltimore, amongst others.
  • Arnold Rothenberg, Deputy Inspector of the Nassau County Police Department and the Deputy Commander of the Nassau County Police Academy.
  • Sydney Roberts, a Black woman who is the Chief Administrator of the Chicago, Civilian Office of Police Accountability. She leads the city's civilian police oversight body, which has full administrative investigative authority of all officer-involved shootings, deaths in custody or a result of police action, as well as all complaints of excessive force, illegal search and seizure, domestic violence, denial of counsel, coercion and sex and race based verbal abuse.
  • Brian Corr, a Black man who is the immediate past president of the nonprofit National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. It works to: enhance fair and professional law enforcement responsive to community needs; increase accountability and transparency in policing; and build community trust through civilian oversight.
  • Susan Hutson, a Black woman who is the Independent Police Monitor in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Police transformation should involve our entire community. Here's how to get involved:

    There are various policing reform conversations occurring at Police Commission meetings, Joint Committee Meetings (including representatives of the City Council and the Police Commission) and City Council meetings. Find information about all of them, as well as updates and related resources, on the City of Burlington's website, at: burlingtonvt.gov/policetransformation.

    Let me know your thoughts on police transformation by emailing me at kdodson@bpdvt.org, or calling 802-540-2122. Or drop a letter in the mail addressed to Kyle Dodson, Burlington Police Department, 1 North Avenue, Burlington, Vt., 05401.

    This letter was commissioned and paid for by the City of Burlington.