Results of an influential assessment of the Burlington Police Department won’t be completed until this fall, about three months behind schedule.
CNA Consulting, the firm hired to conduct the assessment, was expected to file its final report late this month but now it is projecting its work won’t be completed until fall.
The Burlington city government hired CNA to perform an operational and functional assessment of the police department after city councilors voted last summer to cut police staffing by 30% to redirect money toward racial justice initiatives.
The assessment will provide an influential framework “that analyzes who, what, where, and how the department polices,” according to the city council resolution outlining the project. It’s expected to provide an objective picture of what resources the department needs — a much-needed perspective at a time when debate continues over appropriate policing.
Policy and budget reconfigurations for the police department are unlikely to occur before the CNA report arrives.
Acting Police Chief Jon Murad and Mayor Miro Weinberger have insisted that the 30% staffing reduction needs to be partially reversed and say that the police department is facing a “staffing crisis.” Progressive city councilors are urging the public to trust the process, let attrition take its course and use the savings to fill 10 new civilian positions in the department to offload staffing pressures.
There are two reasons for the delays, according to CNA Senior Adviser Liza Cordeiro: It took more time than expected to sign the contract guiding CNA’s work, and delays were encountered in acquiring policing data that was crucial to CNA’s assessment.
The City Council approved the contract in February, but it wasn’t signed by city leaders until mid-March. Emails obtained by VTDigger through a public records request show that a CNA contracts administrator followed up about the contract in early March with Kyle Dodson, who was appointed to a six-month stint as director of police transformation by Weinberger.
Dodson was overseeing the contract and assessment until his position ended March 19. His tenure, and $75,000 salary for the work, were ultimately clouded by a lackluster and plagiarized final report he issued to the mayor.
“I am writing to apologize once again for the delays in getting the contract signed and over to CNA,” Dodson wrote back to CNA. “I believe we are very close to having all of our ducks in a row.”
These delays were furthered by Weinberger’s surprise appointment of Darren Springer, general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, to oversee the execution of the CNA contract and the assessment, once Dodson had exited. The City Council resolution had stipulated that Tyeastia Green, director of the city’s Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, would oversee the contract.
Weinberger faced swift backlash for the decision. He said Springer would be a “neutral” figurehead, causing many to criticize the mayor for defining a white male’s perspective as objective and for undermining a Black woman department head.
He eventually walked back the move and reappointed Green.
When reached by VTDigger, Green said the “snafu” over who would manage the contract was the main reason the assessment has been delayed.
She didn’t express concern over the delay. Green said the city wants to give CNA the time and space to do a thorough job.
“They’re doing it in the proper way and the proper time frame so that it can be done correctly,” Green said.
She confirmed that the price tag for the work — about $100,000 — will not go up because of the delay.
As for why there was a delay in delivering police data to CNA, Green told VTDigger that’s a question for Murad to answer. Murad did not respond to requests for comment.
Weinberger’s spokesperson, Samantha Sheehan, wrote in an email to VTDigger that CNA requested an extension, which she said is not unusual, and that the city granted it “without hesitation because of the essentialness of this work.”
“More important than the deadline is the quality of the assessment,” Sheehan wrote. “As the mayor has said before, it is unfortunate that this work is taking place after the city council’s action last June to reduce police staffing by 30%.”
Members of the city team from Green’s agency and the police department “have been working diligently and collaboratively with CNA since March to provide all of the materials they need to complete and [sic] comprehensive and high-quality assessment,” she said.
Sheehan also pushed back on the idea that the time between the council approving the contract and it being signed by city leadership caused a “material delay.” She said the city was prepared for the assessment to extend beyond June.
Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1, who chairs the joint Public Safety Council Committee, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the delays because of the lags in signing the contract and issues about who would manage it.
“It is what it is, and it’s better to move forward,” Hightower wrote in a text to VTDigger.
“I don’t think we would have had the assessment in time to really make thoughtful budget decisions” — the council is scheduled to approve the fiscal year 2022 budget in the coming weeks — “so making sure we give CNA the space to finish a deep and meaningful analysis to make future decisions on should be the priority,” Hightower said.
The city also contracted Talitha Consults alongside CNA to evaluate how Burlington residents view the police department and what they want it to look like in the future.
Skyler Nash, a public policy analyst in the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, said Talitha received about 1,700 responses before recently closing its public survey. He said he expects the joint Public Safety committee will get the results later this month.
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