Burlington voters to weigh in community police oversight board

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) — Queen City residents will consider several bylaw amendments this Town Meeting Day. But there will also be two measures proposed by local residents. One would allow citizens to place referenda directly on the ballot, and another deals with police oversight.

As Burlington continues efforts for police reform, a citizen-led bylaw amendment would create a municipal oversight body for the police department, a measure that fell through two years ago after a veto by the mayor.

“At the BPD, we believe that accountability is so great that this must happen before we can proceed with police rebuilding. Regaining the community’s trust is key through this process,” said Faried Munarsyah, who led the petition campaign to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the March vote. The proposal would place the discipline and firing of officers in the hands of a civilian oversight body, rather than the police chief and mayor. The Board would also have the authority to subpoena the Department for records, documents or other evidence in cases of alleged misconduct.

“I think it’s quite absurd and really offensive to the men and women who go out there and put their bodies and lives at risk for this community every day and I hope it’s firmly rejected,” said Miro Weinberger, Mayor of Burlington. He says there are problems with omitting the chief of disciplinary affairs and giving that power to people with no law enforcement experience. Weinberger says it would also hurt police officer recruitment and retention. “Given the insult to law enforcement personnel this proposal is, I am very concerned that if this were to happen it would really undermine the progress we are finally making in rebuilding the department.”

“One of the primary responsibilities of law enforcement is to build trust in their communities, and we think enabling that oversight shouldn’t be important to people trying to enter the profession,” said the ACLU’s Falko Schilling.

The mayor vetoed a similar bylaw amendment proposed by the city council two years ago. However, since this proposal emerged from a citizens’ petition, it automatically goes into the election on March 7th.

Another proposed constitutional amendment would allow for even more electoral referendums in the future. Currently, voters can only request amendments to the charter, but if that proposal changes, citizens could put new regulations directly on the ballot. The mayor also opposes this measure, arguing that deliberative democracy through City Council officials has served Burlington well.

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