Burlington's New Police Chief Talks Race Relations, Opiate Issues And Legalizing Marijuana

Sep 1, 2015


As of Tuesday afternoon, Vermont's largest city has a new top cop. Brandon del Pozo was sworn in as Burlington's police chief earlier today.

Del Pozo comes to the Queen City after more than 18 years with the New York Police Department, where he served as everything from a patrol cop, to an intelligence officer overseas, to a commander.

VPR sat down with del Pozo Tuesday just a few hours before he was sworn in.

On how del Pozo will get started in Burlington

"In the largest sense one of the things I want to do is start reconnecting cops with everyday citizens... There'll be some strategies you'll see.. working to give citizens a voice in prioritizing what they want out of police services in their own communities. And empowering sergeants, officers — the rank and file — to really work with citizens to solve those problems.

"The other thing is getting on ... the heroin problem we have here in Burlington and in Vermont. Not only the dealing itself but addiction — how to help handle the addiction problem and also the crimes associated with heroin such as property crime, burglary, robberies. And lastly we have the notable open cases — we have a homicide and we also have a shooting that haven't been closed to arrest yet. I' d like to work to close those."

On the role of police on the opiate and heroin abuse problems around Vermont

"One of the things I'm adamant about is that heroin is a problem but it's not a problem that is solved by criminalizing addicts, and so one of the things I don't plan on focusing on is saddling addicts with a criminal history. But police are out there in the field ... So what the police can do in the fight against heroin addiction is really be a conduit for services and information. I think good cops should know who the addicts are, who's on the verge of being addicted, who's gone so far that they may need to be arrested for doing something like robberies and burglaries, who can benefit from intervention. So just as a source of intelligence in the fight to bring addicts back into the fold, the police are probably one of the best collectors, purveyors, distributors of intelligence about this problem."

"What the police can do in the fight against heroin addiction is really be a conduit for services and information. I think good cops should know who the addicts are, who's on the verge of being addicted, who's gone so far that they may need to be arrested for doing something like robberies and burglaries, who can benefit from intervention." - Brandon del Pozo, Burlington Police Chief

On the different between criminalizing addiction and targeting crimes committed by addicts

"The distinction that needs to be drawn is if you're out there robbing a bank or convenience store at gunpoint to finance your addiction, that's a criminal act: you're a felon and incarceration hopefully is in your future. So it depends on the type of encounter. So what I mean specifically is being caught in the act shooting up or committing petty property theft, those are the folks that we want to divert from a life of being saddled by a criminal record. But there does come a point where you cross over into crimes that genuinely endanger citizens physically or that are really disruptive to the community and that's criminal, that's the full-bore police response that you'll get."

On legalizing marijuana in Vermont

"I don't have a position on that yet, not because I'm afraid to take one, but because I think there's a lot of consequences that we have to work through. One is that Vermont is a day's drive from about 30 million people who would not have legal access to marijuana otherwise, so legalizing it here is a little different than legalizing it in states that are a little more geographically isolated. I just want to figure out how that would work out. The other thing was a very interesting article in the New York Times that I re-Tweeted that I read, that as marijuana gets legalized, it actually drives down the value of cultivating marijuana in places like Mexico and what quickly moves in then is the opiate crop."

On police relationships with communities of color

"I think that one of the best ways to repair is the individual level, the individual transaction between police officers and citizens, and I think that reason-giving is extremely important. I think that if you look at where crime occurs in Burlington, minority neighborhoods... are often afflicted with the highest levels of crime, and one of the positive effects that police can have is by diminishing that crime, by suppressing it, by solving those crime problems as best we can and elevating the quality of life for minorities that lives in these neighborhoods."

On being in the NYPD during post-9/11 racial profiling, and race relations with police now

"Number one, folks are right to have concerns about race and policing in general. It's what's convulsing policing throughout America today is how policing reckons with race and all of the consequences of how race has been treated in the 200 years prior to today ... 

"Folks are right to have concerns about race and policing in general. It's what's convulsing policing throughout America today." - Brandon del Pozo, Burlington Police Chief

 " ... The proof will be in the pudding, how the city actually gets policed. But number two, I have to reiterate, each and every citizen comes with a full complement of their individual rights and nothing diminishes that."