Weinberger Outlines Platform to Bolster Public Safety | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » News

Weinberger Outlines Platform to Bolster Public Safety

By

Published January 12, 2023 at 8:03 p.m.


Mayor Miro Weinberger - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Mayor Miro Weinberger on Thursday outlined a 16-point plan that he says will improve public safety in Burlington.

Some of the proposals are ones the mayor has shared before, including a pledge to lobby state lawmakers for stronger gun laws. But his platform also includes some new initiatives. 

One would form a city task force to prevent gun violence, starting in March. Another would hire a new staffer to supervise the department's unarmed social workers. Steps to restaff the police force are also mentioned in the plan.

"The administration will continue working with urgency and making the investments necessary to restore and protect public safety for our whole community," Weinberger said at Thursday's press conference at police headquarters.

The plan follows a spike in gun violence in the city. Burlington has tallied 52 gunfire incidents since 2020 — with half of those occurring in 2022 alone — compared to an average of two the previous eight years. Police have solved a majority of the cases.

The task force signals a shift in the administration's approach to gun violence. In interviews for a Seven Days cover story in the fall, both Weinberger and acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad emphasized the importance of arresting and prosecuting people involved in gun crime. Others interviewed for the story said city leaders should be doing more to address the root causes of violence, particularly among youths.

That idea appears to have taken hold. Kim Carson, the newly hired director of the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, who will lead the task force, said the group will examine those root causes. Weinberger added that "incarceration is not the outcome we seek."

Asked why the city is only starting prevention work three years into a troubling trend, Weinberger suggested the crisis "crystallized" last year after "a lot of community conversation."

"What we're announcing today is the result of people coming together," he said. "This is important work, and we're doing it now."
Mayor Miro Weinberger (far right) - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger (far right)
The mayor's plan also calls for various reforms, such as enacting a policy to proactively release body camera footage within 30 days of an incident. The department adopted the policy in 2021 but couldn't enact it until the city hired a "redaction specialist" to edit sensitive footage. That staffer came on board at the beginning of the year, Murad said.

But the policy isn't absolute. It still bars the release of footage "for certain types of incidents and uses of force," according to the mayor's office.

As part of the public safety plan, Murad also pledged to support reforms recommended by CNA, an independent contractor the city hired in 2021 to analyze department operations. The group identified serious deficiencies at the Burlington Police Department, including inefficient staffing schemes, inadequate training and evidence of racial bias.

The report also said the department lacks civilian oversight and recommended that Burlington create a "citizen review board" to conduct internal investigations. Currently, the city's civilian-led Police Commission can hear resident complaints but can't mete out discipline.

This March, however, voters will consider a question to create a "community control board." The proposed charter change would allow the board to fire and suspend officers for misconduct, bypassing the chief, who currently has sole discretion over officer discipline. Weinberger vetoed a similar proposal in 2020, but a group of residents recently petitioned to place the question on the ballot.
On Thursday afternoon, Murad and Weinberger said defeating that ballot item is integral to their public safety plan. Murad called the proposal "an unreasonable" level of civilian oversight that would damage the department's recruitment efforts.

"We can find ways forward. I do not believe this ballot item is that," he said.

The city council's Progressive caucus released a statement on Thursday afternoon saying the mayor's plan continues to rely too heavily on "policing and punishment."

"While we appreciate the administration's dedication to engaging community stakeholders in gun violence prevention, releasing use-of-force body camera footage, and training law enforcement on the realities of racism," the statement said, "we feel the Mayor's public safety priorities ultimately continue to fall short of a vision to effectively reduce violence and other harms in our community.

"Without a stronger commitment to rebuilding trust in police that includes community oversight, even the best of these proposals will struggle to succeed," the Progs said.

The caucus will hold a press conference next week to outline its public safety priorities.

Read Mayor Weinberger's full public safety plan here.