BPD officers must strive for de-escalation

Meg Trogolo

On Nov. 8, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan made an announcement that proved Vermont law enforcement cares more about loyalty to each other than keeping Vermonters safe.

Donovan said in a press conference that he would not continue to investigate Burlington police officer Cory Campbell’s involvement in the death of Douglas Kilburn, according to a Nov. 8 VTDigger article.

On March 11, Campbell punched Kilburn multiple times outside UVM Medical Center. Three days later, Kilburn died from the head injuries he sustained during the incident, according to a Nov. 11 Cynic article.

Campbell’s body camera footage, released by Burlington Police Department, shows Campbell directing Kilburn to a hospital room in the medical center where Kilburn’s wife was being treated.

Campbell told Kilburn to “shut the fuck up and leave,” and Kilburn got out of the car and hit Campbell.

Campbell punched Kilburn back multiple times, leaving him motionless on the ground, according to the footage. Three days later, Kilburn was dead.

Campbell was placed on administrative leave shortly after the incident, but he returned to full duty immediately after Donovan dropped the investigation.

Burlington police officers have been trained to de-escalate conflicts, according to a September 2016 Burlington Free Press article.

They also use body cameras to record all police incidents, according to a February 2018 department policy statement.

These measures are intended to teach peaceful interaction and remind officers that their actions will be recorded.

However, Campbell was still able to turn a verbal argument into a physical fight without facing serious consequences.

Instead of firing Campbell or adding further de-escalation training, the attorney general essentially approved Campbell’s use of violence.

In the short term, careful review of body camera footage and further training for officers on highly emotional situations might help prevent more incidents like Kilburn’s death.

In the long term, policy changes must accompany a deeper cultural change in Vermont’s law enforcement agencies.

The Burlington Police Department should go beyond reviewing body camera footage and holding trainings on mental illness.

They should look for officers from different backgrounds to understand the complexity of Burlington and its people.

Police officers and the justice system need to stop looking inward and start looking outward, towards the people they promise to protect and to serve.