The city council in Vermont’s largest city voted unanimously Monday night to confirm the appointment of Jennifer Morrison as interim chief of police. She’ll now lead the Burlington Police Department, which has been mired in controversy after it was revealed last month that two senior police officials had anonymous social media accounts.
Morrison said her first order of business would be to “steady the ship.”
“I really believe it is my job to get to work and triage, because there’s an awful lot of balls in the air, but what’s happening within the four walls of One North Avenue needs to be shored up and that’s job one,” Morrison said. “And then I will turn my attention to the council, the [police] commission and the community members that perhaps we need to rebuild trust with."
Morrison has a lengthy record as a law enforcement official in Vermont. She spent more than 20 years at the Burlington Police and in 2012 was named the department’s first female deputy chief. Most recently, she spent five years as police chief in Colchester before retiring in 2018. She also served as the president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police.
Mayor Miro Weinberger, who tapped Morrison to return the department in the interim role, said she was the right person to guide the department during this time.
“I think it is a great opportunity for the department during this challenging time to have a woman of her experience and statue and background and particular experience in Burlington and Chittenden County to serve in this key interim role,” Weinberger said.
Morrison, who has said she won’t apply for the permenant position, is expected to serve for four to six months while the city searches for a new police chief. She’ll start work immediately and be paid an annual salary of $131,005.10, according to a city memo.
Morrison takes over a department that's been ensnared in controversy since its former chief, Brandon del Pozo, abruptly resigned last month. Del Pozo stepped down after admitting he used a fake Twitter account in July to mock Charles Winkleman, an activist and frequent critic of the city administration.
Del Pozo also lied about creating the account when asked about it by Seven Days.
After del Pozo's resignation, Deputy Chief Jan Wright, who was briefly appointed acting chief, also revealed she had an anonymous Facebook account under the named “Lori Spicer” that she used to interact with civilians, including Winkleman. Wright is currently on administrative leave and the city is investigating her social media use.
Since Dec. 16, Deputy Chief Jon Murad has been serving as acting chief. He was named to the position after explicitly telling the city attorney and human resources director that he never engaged in anonymous social media posting.
Last month, the city also announced it was hiring Anita Tinney, a consultant with the Employee Labor Academy, to examine the police department’s social media use. Tinney review was set to begin Jan. 3, according to the city.
The recent social media controversy is the latest incident to put a spotlight on practices in the Burlington Police Department. In March 2019, a man died a few days after an altercation with a cop; the officer was later cleared of any criminal wrong-doing, though the department recently reprimanded him for a minor policy violation related to that incident. There were also federal lawsuits filed last year, alleging that officers used excessive force against black men.
In response to those use-of-force incidents, the city council formed a special committee to review police policies and practices. That group’s work is ongoing.
Morrison acknowledged she was stepping into a challenging situation, but said that she was going to move forward with swift, decisive action.
“I think you come to find out I am an incredibly direct communicator,” Morrison said. “I don’t play games and I’m not a terribly political animal.”