Burlington Mayoral Candidate Survey 2024

On January 23, the ACLU published the results of a survey of Burlington’s mayoral candidates in advance of the March 5 Town Meeting Day election. We invited candidates Emma Mulvaney-Stanak and Joan Shannon to answer questions about their positions on criminal law reform, housing, harm reduction, and police accountability—all issues that have repeatedly been named as priorities for the Burlington community in 2024. Responses are below.

Updated on February 6, 2024 to include responses from Joan Shannon.

Law reform: Should Vermont continue implementing reforms to reduce its reliance on incarceration?

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak:  Yes

The Department of Justice and other public safety experts recommend research-based solutions, including crisis response measures and police intervention, rather than elevated punishments like minimum sentencing. Research shows that incarceration increases risk of homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental illness. Community safety cannot be improved through one approach or by increased use of our understaffed corrections system. Burlington needs collaborative solutions that help people meet their basic needs. We must make better use of community enforcement measures proven to increase safety: community policing, strategic use of resources to address “hot spots” experiencing increased crime, and right-sized staffing levels for police, social workers, and mental health first responders. As a state representative, I proudly co-sponsored legislation rethinking use of our incarceration system (H.326, H.438, H.445). I also led efforts in 2022 to create a pilot program, operated by Vermont Works for Women, to help justice-involved individuals reenter the community and find gainful employment.

We can learn from communities nationwide about housing-first and treatment-first programs. As mayor, I will do the hard work to find sustainable solutions. I will listen, convene experts, city leaders, and community members, and work with partners to create a safer, healthier Burlington.

Joan Shannon: Did not respond Yes or No

Right now, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections, 80% of those incarcerated are in prison for violent crimes. I believe that incarceration is the appropriate response for people who are convicted of violent crimes. For those not convicted of violent crimes (the remaining 2o%) I absolutely support finding ways to reduce reliance on incarceration. I support creating prisons that are more humane, provide more opportunities, and are truly rehabilitative. It is a misnomer to impute that the government of Burlington can control state policy on this issue. It is the legislature, the judiciary, the State’s Attorney’s and Attorney General Offices, and the Department of Corrections that have direct control over how and why people are incarcerated.
Data Source: https://doc.vermont.gov/research-and-data/population-data/popdashboard

Housing: Would you support implementing Housing First policies that ensure everyone has access to housing, unconditionally and with greater access to services?

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak:  Yes

We must do the harder, upstream work to create a community where people can meet their basic needs by helping to create more affordable and stable housing, accessible health care, and livable wage jobs. Burlington can and will solve these complex challenges if we work together and provide wraparound services that help individuals stabilize their lives. We need city government leaders to work cooperatively together, while also bringing in regional and state partners. Burlington can be an important leader for our state and other less resourced communities if we act with compassion, urgency, and expertise on how to truly solve these challenges.

In the short-term, the state should fully fund the Vermont Housing Conservation Fund and begin to concentrate on critical transition points in people’s lives when homelessness is most likely - transitioning out of the corrections system, those struggling with

substance use disorder, and those who lose employment. We should also continue supporting and funding the Pathways program in Vermont, which does great work using a “housing first model” to support the most at-risk part of the houseless population and has a high success rate of stabilizing folks long-term.

Joan Shannon: Did not respond Yes or No

I support the idea espoused by the Housing First concept. I unconditionally support immediately ending homelessness, if such a goal was possible. In fact, as the ACLU is well aware, some people choose to live outside the confines of society. Some of the people who make this choice have mental health issues, and as the ACLU has advocated for, these individuals cannot be “forcibly” medicated except in extreme circumstances.

Homelessness is a complicated and multifaceted issue and will not be solved “immediately.” With that said, I unconditionally support increasing social services to anyone who wants them, if there are enough providers and the funds from the State and Federal government is available. I certainly will advocate for these resources. My housing policy is what I am calling a hybrid Housing First/Treatment First policy.

This policy has been created with input from non-profit low-income housing providers and social service professionals. What it means is that Housing First works best for most people. But for those who are violent, too sick to care for themselves, resistant to services, treatment first may be required for them to successfully be housed.

Data Sources - https://www.pathwaysvermont.org/what-we-do/ourprograms/housing-first/ and https://vtdigger.org/2021/05/06/residents-of-burlington-encampment-ask-c...

Overdose Prevention Centers: As mayor, would you advocate for the creation of an overdose prevention center in Burlington to help address the overdose crisis and the challenges faced by people with substance use disorder?

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak: Yes

I am the only candidate who has publicly committed to pursuing evidence-based policy solutions with demonstrated efficacy to these pressing challenges in our community. Specifically, these policy solutions include overdose prevention centers, access to recovery services, and supporting investments in health care workers being part of first responders to mental health crisis calls including a fully funded Burlington CARES program that is reviewed and improved upon as it rolls out. Vermonters struggling with substance use disorder need multiple pathways to recovery. We also must save lives and reduce harm wherever possible. I have also sponsored H.72 (2023) to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for safer drug consumption programs and H.395 (2021) to eliminate additional barriers to recovery services.

Joan Shannon: Yes

According to commentary from the ACLU overdose prevention centers are meant to serve, “opioid users at an overdose prevention site have access to sterilized syringes, fentanyl test strips, overdose reversal medications, and other life-saving tools. They also have an opportunity to connect to long-term treatment services that can be essential to recovery.”

As Mayor, I agree with implementing an overdose prevention center, as defined by the ACLU, in the City of Burlington. Any such implementation would need to be accompanied by robust data collection and analysis (as supported by the Centers for Disease Control) to measure whether the center was successful in terms of recovery and benefits to the community, as well as those addicted to drugs. If it is determined that the cost/benefit of these centers is worth expansion of the centers, I would support expansion. If the data demonstrates that these centers are not providing the expected benefits, or are causing harm in the community, then I would support their closure.

Data Sources - https://www.acluvt.org/en/news/overdose-prevention-sites-will-save-lives...

Community Safety: Does the Burlington Police Department need to do more to earn the trust of all the communities it serves?

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak: Yes

Everyone deserves to feel and be safe in Burlington. Currently, the city is not meeting this standard. Together, we can get there. Addressing community safety will be my first and top priority as mayor.

People deserve a timely, appropriate response when they call for help. We must work together to solve the root causes of our challenges. This includes collaborating with police, health experts, social service providers, state partners, businesses and nonprofit leaders, and impacted community members. It also includes using evidence (CNA Report, 2021) to determine the right-sized police department for Burlington, while fully resourcing non-sworn officer response teams (CSLs, CSOs, EMTs, CARES first responders, and Howard Center street outreach). We must strategically use police for appropriate calls regarding violence and safety threats, and not view them as an end-all to address every challenge.

City leaders must also better acknowledge that parts of our community have long lacked trust with the police department due to harm at the hands of some police. We must improve training for police and first responders by focusing on de-escalation, trauma, anti-bias, and cultural responsiveness. This will begin to shift the department culture, combined with conscious efforts to rebuild relationships with the community.

Joan Shannon: Did not respond Yes or No

I absolutely agree that community policing requires trust in all communities effected by crime, as well as trust from the police who are serving the community. The Burlington Police Department needs to be fully staffed in order to restart the walking patrols thatwere common not that long ago. “Beat cops” get to personally know the communities that they serve and the community gets to personally know them. It is a win-win for the community and for the police. As Mayor, in an effort to build community trust, I would work in unison with the police, rather than in an antagonist manner. The police know
this to be the case, which is why I earned the early endorsement of the police union. We need to restore funding to build connection, communication, and trust between law enforcement officers and all Burlingtonians. I opposed defunding the police. I opposed defunding “Creemee with a Cop,” a community building event, and many of the other harmful anti-police initiatives of 2020.

Oversight and Accountability: Is there currently adequate oversight and accountability for police officers when they violate someone’s civil rights?

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak: No

There must be a well-functioning system for accountability on both the local and statewide level when law enforcement officers violate an individual’s civil rights. A notable number of Burlingtonians supported the Community Oversight Board charter change proposal in 2023 (36%), which continued the important conversation started in 2021 on police oversight and accountability. I support continuing this critical conversation by examining our Police Commission’s oversight authority and exploring models used by other municipalities across our state and nation for promoting trust, transparency and accountability between our community and police. We must combine stronger oversight, a culture within the department that values accountability and service to the community, and continual training on fair and impartial policing and culturally responsive practices to create and maintain a community-based police department. Burlington ought to be a leader in statewide conversations related to the culture of policing and in advocating for changes in statewide law enforcement standards. We must also collect regular data to understand and address the higher rates of arrest of Black and other people of color in Burlington. This is wrong, harmful, and contributes to a lack of trust of the police by parts of our community.

Joan Shannon: Did not respond Yes or No

The most powerful tool currently available is the Vermont Criminal Justice Council’s, Professional Regulation Subcommittee (PRS). The PRS has the ability to investigate accusations of “unprofessional conduct” by a certified (licensed) law enforcement officer and if substantiated, take action against the officer’s certification. Under state law, unprofessional conduct is in part defined by civil rights violations. Unfortunately, the PRS has a substantial backlog of cases and is woefully underfunded. I strongly support the robust funding of the PRS investigative and disciplinary process.

The best-known mechanism for officer accountability regarding alleged civil rights violations is 42 U.S.C. § 1983.Section 1983 allows for individuals to sue police officers (and other government employees) who engaged in alleged civil rights violations, while acting “under the color of state law” (meaning in their capacity as a police officer or other government employee). Section 1983 provides for an attorney’s fee provision that requires a government actor who has been found to violate the civil rights of an individual, to pay the attorney’s fees spent in prosecuting the case.

There are other areas of police interaction where I think there is room for improved oversight and have been actively working to assure responsible changes are made with broad community buy-in from those who know policing best, including community members, the police union, and the police commission.

Data Sources: https://vcjc.vermont.gov/form/professional-regulation-complain, https:/... and https://casetext.com/case/diamond-v-oconnor-2