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Ben & Jerry’s joins liberal cohort calling for citizen-led police oversight in Burlington

BURLINGTON — Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont ice cream giant owned by Unilever, has formally endorsed a resolution set for Town Meeting Day in Burlington concerning the creation of a citizen-led police oversight body.

Last Wednesday, Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield met with activists to support what’s known as Item 7, which will take the form of a Town Meeting Day ballot question.

According to a press release, this initiative “if passed, will create an independent Community Control board to oversee local police, with both investigatory and disciplinary authority.”

Greenfield states, “Burlington has long been home to bold ideas for how to build a better world. Over the last three decades, we’ve seen the city thrive when it leans in and lives up to the values of its residents. That’s what Ballot Item 7 is about.”

City Councilors Gene Bergman, P-Ward 3, and Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, support the effort and have suggested that a lot of time and resources have already been put into it.

“The fact that many people in this city do not trust the police speaks volumes to the need for our city to install independent public oversight,” Dieng said. “The City Council failed to act, they failed to do the right thing. They failed to provide the level of accountability that is needed and deserved.”

A group called People for Police Accountability is largely behind these efforts. A statement from the group says Item 7 is a “rare opportunity to decide to make our policing system incrementally better for all people.”

The Vermont ACLU is also in on these efforts. The group’s policy advocate, Indi Schoenherr, said “community control boards represent one of the most promising opportunities to create accountability trust between law enforcement and communities … [lending] much-needed checks and balances to the relationship between police departments and the people they serve.”

The press release continues with more enthusiastic quotes from supporting entities, including The Battery Park Movement, The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, ACLU Vermont, Howard Center Workers’ Union, Rights & Democracy, Vermont Progressive Party, Burlington Tenants United, Migrant Justice, Vermont Racial Alliance, Peace & Justice Center, Showing Up For Racial Justice, and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights.

Not everyone thinks citizen oversight is a good idea

But not everyone thinks a citizen-led board is a good idea. Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy has noted calls for increased police oversight, and she’s warned it’s not going to work out well.

“Policing has been built on a certain structure, and even though we have worked towards changing the structure of policing as to how we relate to the public, we still need to maintain a certain structure because of the work that we do, Hardy said on the “Morning Drive” radio show earlier this month. “It comes with the training, it comes with the discipline, and it comes with how people handle very high voltage situations, and they have to have someone to look to for that.”

The Burlington Police Chief, Jon Murad, was on the same radio show in mid-January, and said too much scrutiny of his officers could have negative impacts.

“You know scrutiny is a part of this job, it has to be based on the authorities and responsibilities that police officers have, there has to be scrutiny about it, I try to insolate the men and women with whom I work from some of that, the sense of oppressiveness from some of that scrutiny, and we don’t think it’s oppressive we ultimately think it is fair but I do think that they need to focus on their work,” Murad said on their Feb. 6 episode.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Burlington Police Department Facebook

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