Chief Brandon del Pozo Bullies Critics into Silence

There are serious problems within the Burlington Police Department, and they come directly from its leadership. Chief del Pozo’s social media presence highlights these issues. Del Pozo’s social media is meant to bully and silence critics, whether it be private citizens or oversight groups like Copwatch, all while promoting himself. This behavior has recently even extended to hiding a citizen complaint to the police commission, trolling on twitter with a fake account, and abusing board connections to try to get a vocal critic fired from their job. At the same time, the department’s non-existent social media policy and lack of oversight has led to some embarrassing situations. These include ‘liking’ porn, leaking police videos, harassing private citizens, and interfering with state investigations. Those around del Pozo, who should be a check on his power, have failed to hold him accountable for any of his actions. They will never cross that thin, blue, ruling-class line.

Multiple times over the last few years, del Pozo has been confronted by concerned citizens. One such interaction, with Mr Fife (a friend), who was advocating for nothing more than a social media policy, ended in the above email, where del Pozo accused Fife of going down ‘the road to fascism‘. The Chief, after all, had bragged (above) about creating NYPD’s social media operation (to combat negative press after the murder of Eric Garner), so it should have been a simple and short task. And yet the following video of a Police Commission meeting Fife was invited to, shows otherwise.

Bullying and abusive behavior by del Pozo includes a ‘joke’ (at 3:00) about Mr Fife being ‘under the gun’, del Pozo abruptly rescinding their 18-month long agreement (15:10), and many personal, bad-faith arguments. In the video below, the Chief argues, once Mr Fife has left, that the only oversight he will agree to is mayoral. The commissioners present, including the current Chair Michelle Asch and Vice-Chair Shirin Hart, did not express any concern about del Pozo’s behavior, in email or in person.

Emails from the Burlington Police Department show a strategy to close ranks when criticized or offered feedback, to publicly ignore dissent while privately keeping tabs on dissenters, and to even block any attempts at public conversations around police reforms. It’s a strategy that regularly involves putting out press releases in a nakedly political manner to make the department look better after serious police misconduct and brutality. Machiavelli would be proud. Below are examples of Burlington police officers monitoring social media for dissent.

Copwatch, a citizen-watch group that formed after several black men were beaten by Burlington police officers, has faced some of the most aggressive paranoia from del Pozo and his hand-picked NYPD deputy, Jon Murad.

A few months after the police commission meeting above, I submitted a complaint to the Burlington Police Commission. My first online complaint never made it to the commission. Officers Wright, Murad, and del Pozo prevented that complaint from reaching the appropriate commission channels in a frightening display of disregard for even the thinnest veil of oversight and process.

However, after alerting the commission chair, my second complaint was received, and I began to an incredibly opaque and undignified process. I was not explained the steps of the process, nor was I kept up to date with the investigation, although I was at one point told that the department had no protocols in place for complaints against Chief del Pozo and would need to hire an outside investigator. All I knew was that the decision rested in the hands of Mayor Weinberger.

I assumed that the complaint was a dead-end, as the Police Commission and Mayor Weinberger have regularly condoned del Pozo and his officers’ aggressive and bullying behavior. And then, on July 4th, 2019, I was briefly visited by an anonymous Twitter troll who I believe was Chief del Pozo. The troll focused three(!) times on my complaints regarding cursing, complaints I specifically made on social media the day after del Pozo excused/downplayed swearing by officer Cory Campbell, who punched and killed Mr Douglas Kilburn. For all of my public writing and posting, it was an oddly very specific troll.

Why would Chief del Pozo have trolled me from an anonymous account? While the complaint and the multiple criticisms of the Chief’s social media policy played a part, another reason may be because I participated in pressuring del Pozo regarding a highly publicized botched PR campaign in late June 2019. An officer visited the Legacy Museum, a museum about the history of police brutality against black Americans, and wore a ‘thin blue line’ shirt. Many Vermonters of color were insulted by the clear ignorance.

Before the troll account was deleted I was able to figure out that the email associated with the troll account was connected to a local number that ended with the digits ’44’, the same two digits of the number connected to both del Pozo’s and BPD’s twitter accounts. A source with access to del Pozo’s personal cell phone number confirmed that his number also ends in ’44’. On top of this, all three accounts (BPD, del Pozo, and Winklewatch) used an Android phone. While this offered some evidence that the chief trolled me, what happened next was even more surprising.

A month ago my workplace, The Howard Center, HR told me that someone had complained anonymously about me in July of 2019, around the time that del Pozo trolled me. The complainant directly emailed Bob Bick, CEO of Howard Center, saying that my social media presence was ‘hostile and aggressive’.

The timing of the complaint around the Winklewatch Troll was too coincidental. On top of this, Mr Bick’s work email isn’t public, meaning the complaint was sent by someone comfortable enough to email him such a petty complaint. And, to add to this evidence, del Pozo is a board member at the Howard Center and has easy and regular email access with Mr Bick.

I believe the evidence shows that Chief del Pozo, Deputy Wright, and Deputy Murad kept my complaint about Chief del Pozo from the Police Commission. When that didn’t work, Chief del Pozo trolled and retaliated against me for making said complaint. I believe that it is not a coincidence that the troll’s phone number and phone type matched del Pozo’s, or that the troll complained about hyper specific, police and Burlington-official-related issues. When trolling didn’t work, del Pozo knew my employer personally and abused his position on the Howard Center Board of Directors to try to get me fired. All because I and others regularly criticized his social media bullying and shaming.

No elected officials are willing to hold Chief del Pozo, his deputies, or the Burlington Police Department responsible for their actions. And it’s important to note that even when people have called for modest police reforms, del Pozo utilized fear-mongering and claims of community distrust to protect his unfettered power. In response to Mr Fife, del Pozo argued that the only appropriate oversight was a mayoral election where Mayor Weinberger loses. If this sounds like a familiar argument, it is because President Trump, another bully, uses these exact sort of arguments. Paranoid bullies who feel they are owed power and influence, who serve and protect themselves, are cut from the same cloth.

It should make us all wonder – who is watching our police, why is our council allowing this to happen, is there any behavior del Pozo can engage in that would result in real consequences, and who, exactly, is heading down that road towards fascism?

To Ensure Justice, Police Departments and Local News Must Stop Publicly Shaming

No one wants their photo taken and shared around the internet on the worst day of their life, yet Vermont police departments, with the assistance of local Vermont media, do just that by publishing the mugshots of arrestees.

It is good for police departments to share data and news of the work they are doing and for the press to keep citizens informed. Too often however, departments publish official press releases with the photographs of arrested individuals and a story, often reprinted by local media, that solidifies a narrative of criminality that will follow and tar these individuals forever. No matter the intent, the impact is one of public shaming and ostracizing.

Several years ago leaders in South Burlington recognized the harms of public shaming. Then-Chief Whipple decided to end his department’s practice of publishing mugshots on social media. He noted that there was often “a flurry of inappropriate comments,” and that the pictures could prevent a person from successfully completing rehabilitation and reintegrating into the community.

Published mugshots make it harder for our criminal justice system to successfully function. Innocent Vermonters, wrongfully or mistakenly arrested, have their lives and reputations ruined. For those who are charged with crimes they committed, shared mugshots make it more difficult for people to see themselves as having value and potential, all while making it harder for them to secure stable employment and housing, increasing the likelihood that recidivism will occur. Some companies, recognizing how much damage mugshots can cause, have even begun to extort arrestees, demanding payment to remove mugshots from their companies’ websites.

The police and press can inform the public without public shaming, creating policies that ensure equal treatment for all parties. Ideally, any policy would address social media publications and cover the following subjects at a minimum:

  • When (if ever) will pictures of arrested and/or convicted people be published, and how long will they remain up for.
  • What will be done if this arrested or convicted person is found innocent or is charged with a lesser crime.
  • How (and if) comment sections will be monitored.
  • If social media posts will be shareable.

Surprisingly, very few organizations in the state of Vermont have written policies on mugshots or other forms of public shaming. All of our police departments and our press could take a positive step, exemplifying Vermont values of compassion and justice, by developing policies that prevent public shaming and contribute to building stronger Vermont communities through rehabilitation and restorative justice.

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.