1) Law Reform: Should Vermont continue implementing reforms to reduce reliance on incarceration?
Answer: Right now, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections, 80% of those incarcerated are in prison for violent crimes. I believe that incarceration is the appropriate response for people who are convicted of violent crimes. For those not convicted of violent crimes (the remaining 2o%) I absolutely support finding ways to reduce reliance on incarceration. I support creating prisons that are more humane, provide more opportunities, and are truly rehabilitative.
It is a misnomer to impute that the government of Burlington can control state policy on this issue. It is the legislature, the judiciary, the State’s Attorney’s and Attorney Genera Offices, and the Department of Corrections that have direct control over how and why people are incarcerated.
2) Housing: Would you support implementing Housing First policies that ensure
everyone has access to housing, unconditionally and with greater access to services?
Answer: I support the idea espoused by the Housing First concept. I unconditionally support immediately ending homelessness, if such a goal was possible. In fact, as the ACLU is well aware, some people choose to live outside the confines of society. Some of the people who make this choice have mental health issues, and as the ACLU has advocated for, these individuals cannot be “forcibly” medicated except in extreme circumstances.
Homelessness is a complicated and multifaceted issue and will not be solved “immediately.” With that said, I unconditionally support increasing social services to anyone who wants them, if there are enough providers and the funds from the State and Federal government is available. I certainly will advocate for these resources.
My housing policy is what I am calling a hybrid Housing First/Treatment First policy. This policy has been created with input from non-profit low-income housing providers and social service professionals. What it means is that Housing First works best for most people. But for those who are violent, too sick to care for themselves, resistant to services, treatment first may be required for them to successfully be housed.
3) Overdose Prevention Centers: As Mayor, would you advocate for the creation of an overdose prevention center in Burlington to help address the overdose crisis and the challenges faced by people with substance abuse disorder.
Answer: Yes. According to commentary from the ACLU overdose prevention centers are meant to serve, “opioid users at an overdose prevention site have access to sterilized syringes, fentanyl test strips, overdose reversal medications, and other life-saving tools. They also have an opportunity to connect to long-term treatment services that can be essential to recovery.”
As Mayor, I agree with implementing an overdose prevention center, as defined by the ACLU, in the City of Burlington. Any such implementation would need to be accompanied by robust data collection and analysis (as supported by the Centers for Disease Control) to measure whether the center was successful in terms of recovery and benefits to the community, as well as those addicted to drugs. If it is determined that the cost/benefit of these centers is worth expansion of the centers, I would support expansion. If the data demonstrates that these centers are not providing the expected benefits, or are causing harm in the community, then I would support their closure.
4) Community Safety: Does the Burlington Police Department need to do more to earn the trust of all the communities it serves?
Answer: I absolutely agree that community policing requires trust in all communities effected by crime, as well as trust from the police who are serving the community. The Burlington Police Department needs to be fully staffed in order to restart the walking patrols that were common not that long ago. “Beat cops” get to personally know the communities that they serve and the community gets to personally know them. It is a win-win for the community and for the police. As Mayor, in an effort to build community trust, I would
work in unison with the police, rather than in an antagonist manner. The police know this to be the case, which is why I earned the early endorsement of the police union. We need to restore funding to build connection, communication, and trust between law enforcement officers and all Burlingtonians. I opposed defunding the police. I opposed defunding “Creemee with a Cop,” a community building event, and many of the other harmful anti-police initiatives of 2020.
5) Oversight and Accountability: Is there currently adequate oversight and accountability for police officers that violate someone’s civil rights?
Answer: The most powerful tool currently available is the Vermont Criminal Justice Council’s, Professional Regulation Subcommittee (PRS). The PRS has the ability to investigate accusations of “unprofessional conduct” by a certified (licensed) law enforcement officer and if substantiated, take action against the officer’s certification. Under state law, unprofessional conduct is in part defined by civil rights violations. Unfortunately, the PRS has a substantial backlog of cases and is woefully underfunded. I strongly support the robust funding of the PRS investigative and disciplinary process.
The best-known mechanism for officer accountability regarding alleged civil rights violations is 42 U.S.C. § 1983.Section 1983 allows for individuals to sue police officers (and other government employees) who engaged in alleged civil rights violations, while acting “under the color of state law” (meaning in their capacity as a police officer or other government employee). Section 1983 provides for an attorney’s fee provision that requires a government actor who has been found to violate the civil rights of an individual, to pay the attorney’s fees spent in prosecuting the case.
There are other areas of police interaction where I think there is room for improved oversight and have been actively working to assure responsible changes are made with broad community buy-in from those who know policing best, including community members, the police union, and the police commission.