Burlington Police Chief Resigns, Department's Social Media Policy Under Review
Updated 8 p.m.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo has resigned, and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has announced the city will hire an outside investigator to review the department's social media practices.
At a press conference Monday, the mayor told reporters the chief submitted a letter of resignation Sunday night. This development comes after reports surfaced last week that del Pozo had used an anonymous Twitter account to heckle a civilian.
"With great sadness I have accepted his decision," Weinberger said. "While I believe that Chief del Pozo has been truly an outstanding chief, and while it was clear to me that despite his mistakes he continued to have considerable support within the city council, the police department, the police commission and the community, it was also clear that if he continued to serve, the days ahead would be very challenging for him, his family, the department and the city."
Weinberger said he did not ask del Pozo to resign.
"We had a long conversation where I made it clear to him ... that I believed he had considerable support, and there was a way forward," the mayor said. "But it would be a very painful route forward. It would be one that he would face ongoing scrutiny and questioning."
Weinberger initially announced Monday that Burlington's Deputy Chief of Administration Jannine Wright would be the acting chief, and Wright emphasized how the department would work to rebuild trust with the public.
"That's an issue we need to work out within our walls, and we'll do the very best we can to work with members of the public," she said.
But in a written statement sent Monday night, the mayor's office made Deputy Chief Jon Murad the acting chief after Wright shared with Weinberger that she had a Facebook account under the name "Lori Spicer," through which she discussed the police department with community members.
Weinberger said in the statement:
"While Deputy Chief Wright's situation may be very different than Chief del Pozo's, given the circumstances the department is facing, I found the failure to raise this issue with me in the lead-up to today to constitute a lapse in judgement. ... Deputy Chief Wright's disclosure raises the possibility that problematic social media use is far more widespread within the department than previously understood."
Before naming Murad the acting police chief, Weinberger said Murad "confirmed explicity" to Burlington's city attorney and human resources director that he had never engaged in anonymous social media posting.
The mayor added that the city's draft social media policy would be amended within two weeks to address the issue of social media posting by senior officials.
In his letter of resignation, del Pozo touted the department's work on addressing the opioid crisis and lowering violent crime. He wrote that he would "look back on my time here with intense feelings of pride and accomplishment."
According to the city's 2018 annual report, del Pozo's salary was $124,354. He'll be eligible for accrued benefits for a period of time, but city attorney Eileen Blackwood said during the press conference she wasn't sure of the extent of those benefits.
Del Pozo was hired in 2015 after spending 18 years with the New York City Police Department.
Seven Days first reported last week that del Pozo had created the anonymous Twitter account in July to target Burlington activist Charles Winkleman, and that the chief also repeatedly lied about being behind the account when Seven Days asked about it over the summer.
On Friday, del Pozo told reporters he wouldn't resign and that he still had support from people in the community.
"[People] saying listen, you're a hard-working chief who's done really good things for the city and you're a human being and don't resign this is not the time and it's not the reason," del Pozo said Friday night.
Del Pozo repeatedly apologized for his actions after they came to light last week.
“The tweeting was done on an impulse and it was wrong and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it,” del Pozo said.
According to a police department memo, the mayor began an investigation in July after del Pozo told him about the incident. The ensuing investigation attributed del Pozo's actions to a medical condition and the chief was placed on leave for six weeks before being reinstated.
More from VPR — Burlington Police Chief Created Anonymous Social Media Account To Heckle Critic [Dec. 13]
On Friday afternoon Weinberger had released a written statement, saying that he was troubled by del Pozo's behavior but was giving him a second chance.
In that statement the mayor outlined the course of the investigation and his disciplinary rationale, before concluding by stating he would "have more to say on Monday after reviewing and reflecting on all that has been shared with me."
City councilors and the police commission were not told about the reason for del Pozo’s leave at the time. Weinberger said that since a medical condition was the underlying factor in del Pozo’s actions, the city was limited in what it could share.
Weinberger indicated the only reason he confirmed that del Pozo’s leave was related to the fake Twitter account was because Seven Days directly asked him.
“The way we chose to handle it … was again to treat the chief as we would really any other employee that we believed and had medical verification and was suffering from a medical disorder or a mental health disorder that had impacted his actions — and that meant that, yes, we were intending to continue to not answer questions that were about the medical leave and his health,” Weinberger said.
Progressive City Councilor Max Tracy said Weinberger’s decision not to keep the city council informed was a mistake. Tracy, who called on del Pozo to resign, said the mayor still hasn’t taken responsibility for how he handled the situation.
“I don’t think we can move forward unless the mayor is willing to say ‘I did this wrong, I could have handled this situation better, here’s how in the future I will be better’ — he didn’t do that,” Tracy said.
Several other city councilors attended Monday's press conference. Progressive Councilor Brian Pine said it was a “somber moment.”
“The circumstances are extremely unfortunate,” Pine said. “I think the public will also feel a certain sense of dissatisfaction around what was disclosed and when it was disclosed."
Joan Shannon, a Democrat, said she wasn’t calling for the chief to resign, though she acknowledged it was “probably the best path forward.”
“Maybe this is the best decision for him,” Shannon said. “Maybe this is a decision that allows Burlington to move forward and to continue the good work that he started and move beyond his worst day.”