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Burlington police move to create advisory team


Elizabeth Pattman   | Times-News

The Burlington Police Department is seeking city approval to create a Community Police Advisory Team with the goal of appointing members to begin work by early 2021.

In a report to City Council on Monday, Sept. 14, City Manager Hardin Watkins and Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe detailed a proposal for the advisory team’s formation, laying out the mission and goals of the proposed group.

According to Monday night’s agenda packet, a previous advisory team was discontinued in 2016. Watkins said that group stopped meeting due to poor attendance. Given the police reform activity locally and across the country, the department is seeking to bring it back.

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Watkins said city staff hopes to have a charter prepared by November with members appointed in January 2021.

“We’ve been doing community policing in Burlington for a number of decades, and we need community help to do this the best way possible. That’s really what this is about,” Smythe said.

The first draft of the charter, prepared earlier this month, outlines 11 goals for the advisory team which include:

  • "Provide a forum for informed and engaged residents of Burlington to address issues and concerns relating to public safety;
  • Identify available resources that may be used by the Police and Community to address neighborhood concerns;
  • Recommend to the Chief of Police actions that may be taken by the Police Department to reduce crime and the fear of crime in Burlington;
  • Further promote trust and cooperation among the Police and Community;
  • Review and provide advice on agency wellness programs, officer safety, benefits, and assist with periodic awards ceremonies or other opportunities to celebrate agency and employee successes;
  • Regularly review and provide input on policy and procedure;
  • Assist with recruiting and retaining a diverse and qualified workforce;
  • Provide input on training development and delivery, with an emphasis on community policing, de-escalation skills, fair and impartial policing practices, ethics, and communication skills;
  • Assist in identifying industry best practices in policing with the intent to improve service delivery, crime fighting strategies and further improve police culture;
  • Evaluate departmental annual reports generated for CALEA regarding use of force, pursuits, traffic stop reports, and other metrics as deemed necessary to evaluate the performance and make recommendations on the agency’s ability to build trust and provide public safety in an equitable manner; and
  • Educate and advocate with the public before, during and after critical incidents, to include on-going educational events or town hall type meetings on wide ranging police, safety, justice and racial equity topics."

“They’re as broad-based and comprehensive as we could envision. We had some input from a number of community groups going into this, so we really tried to stick to some of their concepts and pull them into this document,” Smythe said of the goals.

Fifteen to 20 members will make up the proposed advisory team with members being recommended jointly by the city manager and chief of police. Members would be formally approved by City Council. Terms on the advisory team are proposed to last three years.

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Members must live in Burlington or be affiliated with Burlington community partners like ABSS, ACC, Burlington-based corporations like LabCorp or ARMC, the NAACP, faith organizations and more. Members will be required to participate in two ride-alongs per year and attend a Community Police Academy within two years of initial appointment.

“It looks to create a high level of diversity,” Smythe said of the membership guidelines.

“We want as many voices at the table to share their perspectives as possible,” he added. “This is all about positive growth for us and I think that will come from good dialogue, good debate, good discussion and the consensus building.”

In its current design, the advisory team is expected to meet monthly, but other meetings may be called to provide advice or assist with community outreach during critical incidents like officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths. All meetings will comply with open meetings and records laws, Smythe said.

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Should an advisory board be created at a county level, as Smythe said there is current discussion, members of the Burlington advisory team would participate in that entity as well.

At this point, the City Council plans to receive public comments about the advisory team Oct. 6 and Nov. 3.

“I think we recognize this is a very critical juncture in policing in America and a very hot topic in our community. There are so many folks that are interested, and I want to strike while the iron’s hot,” Smythe said.