Who Does Chief del Pozo Serve and Protect?

Del Pozo has a history of acting as both a police chief and a judge, inserting himself into private citizens’ and other officials’ jurisdiction through the media and social media, while also erratically choosing if, when, and how much, public information will be shared. The recent police altercation with Burlington 16-year-old Phin Brown is especially telling of the Chief’s impulsiveness and need to stay in the limelight, while also highlighting the trouble he has separating his personal feelings from his professional work. Del Pozo’s social media presence revolves not around transparency, justice, or community policing, but rather around boosting and protecting his personal profile and narrative.

Del Pozo’s checkered social media presence goes back to at least the summer of 2017, when former Burlington City Councilor Bedrosian brought a complaint to the city council regarding inappropriate messaging from del Pozo. The concerns eventually even made its way into Seven Days, but his behavior has never corrected.

The confusion around del Pozo’s social media presence is that his public persona is so intertwined with the Burlington Police Department’s social media that it’s often hard to tell where del Pozo begins and the department ends. He seems to decide whether he is representing himself or the department in any given situation not based on any consistent or transparent system, but rather by what will serve him best.

Phin Brown’s complaint against Burlington police officers, and del Pozo’s reaction to that complaint, highlight this increasingly problematic dynamic. It’s not just del Pozo’s unwillingness to even entertain meaningful oversight over himself or his department, but his total inability, while expecting everyone else involved in the criminal justice system, to accept personal responsibility and do reparative work.

In fact del Pozo’s inability to take responsibility was front and center during Phin Brown’s media storm. Not only did del Pozo release private information about a minor, but according to VTDigger, he also stated,

“I don’t have the authority or role of analyzing or intervening or opinion-ing on Secret Service operations,” del Pozo said. “I urge people to ask the Secret Service for an account of what they’ve done and reconcile it with the concerns of the citizen.”

Yet when it serves del Pozo’s narrative, he has no problem commenting on other law enforcement and their operations. For example,

On top of this, Del Pozo seems to believe in transparency only when he can control both the narrative and outcome, which is why he repeatedly aired private information about Phin Brown, a minor. More examples include:

In each instance del Pozo made a unilateral choice not connected to department values, but rather to his public persona and personal feelings. This behavior is concerning because laws and policies should be applied equally and evenly, democratically overseen by a group of elected citizens, not decided by a single person who has a personal stake and very public reputation in each outcome. We need a police chief who is a public servant invested in the entire community, not a chief who acts more like a politician always looking for positive press and public accolades.

Who does Chief del Pozo protect and serve? Himself.

How Can We Fight Opioids with Progressive Policy?

“no drugs” by Anderson Mancini is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rising fentanyl use in Vermont is incredibly scary. According to the Vermont Department of Health, the synthetic opioid was to blame for half of the state’s 104 overdose deaths in 2016. While fentanyl acts on brain receptors in a similar way to heroin or morphine, it is fifty to one hundred times more powerful, thus drastically increasing its lethality, especially when ingested unknowingly with heroin laced with the substance.  While there is no question that lawmakers and the community are united in wanting to stop the use of fentanyl by our relatives, friends, and neighbors, there is uncertainty and disagreement in discussing how to best curb its spread and abuse. A plan by the House and Senate to impose harsher penalties on individuals dealing fentanyl, supported by Mayor Weinberger and Police Chief Del Pozo, in an effort to stop its spread, is a tactic whose efficacy has not been proven in research or study.

The new law aims to make penalties for possession a maximum of two years in jail and a $10,000 fine, and selling four milligrams of any drug containing fentanyl would cost a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

While fentanyl distribution should be vigorously discouraged, studies on “tough on crime” policies have shown inconsistent results, and have failed to establish clear correlation between tougher sentencing and reduced distribution. Moreover, if the end goal is to decrease the use of fentanyl and other life threatening opioides, “Achieving better health outcomes for drug users cannot be shown to be a direct result of the enforcement approach.

Instead, I would advocate for the state to continue increasing funding for mental health supports, as well as providing robust treatment services to those struggling with substance use, and establishing better supports in rural areas. Such a strategy is being implemented in Alberta, Canada, where doctors hope demand reduction and greater safety features will decrease demand and distribution of the substance. Policies to better fight the opiate epidemic include stricter controls on opioid prescriptions, more training around fentanyl use, and no abrupt withdrawal or tapering of opioid medications for those in treatment.

Here at home, State Rep. Selene Colburn (Burlington, P/D) recently spearheaded a bill that would offer medication-assisted detox and treatment in Vermont state prisons, which seems a promising approach to a complex problem. Locking up dealers for longer is a classic example of treating the symptom, not the problem. If the state is to make lasting gains in the fight against opiate addiction it must increase outreach and funding for proven and effective treatment methods, rather than simply trying to cut the drug off at the source. As time has shown, there will unfortunately always be emerging drugs and opportunities to get high, and so the best course of action is to help alleviate the conditions pushing Vermonters to use, and to increase supports for long-term users who are in need of help.