After social media scandals, Vt. city appoints 3rd police chief

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — Burlington, Vermont, is hoping the third time’s the charm.

The state’s largest city, whose police department keeps getting mired in social media scandals, is appointing its third chief in a week as two have been forced to resign when underground Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts surfaced.

The first casualty was Brandon del Pozo, who resigned as chief after it came out that he was using a fake Twitter account to heckle activists who were critical of the city, reported WCAX-TV. Stepping in to take his place was casualty number two, Jan Wright, who was shortly after put on paid administrative leave after it emerged that she had a fake Facebook account to interact with the public, WCAX reported.

In fact, she was also operating an Instagram account, the Burlington Free Press reported. Her anonymous Facebook account was designed to “make comments and engage citizens about department policy and practice,” reported local news site Vermont Digger.

Deputy Chief Jon Murad is serving while newly appointed Jennifer Morrison prepares to step in as interim police chief in January, pending city council approval.

The fracas started back in July, though Mayor Miro Weinberger did not make it public until last week, according to a statement from his office.

"On the evening of Sunday, July 28, Chief del Pozo self-reported to me that he had posted tweets from an anonymous Twitter account and that he had not been forthright with a reporter about those tweets,” Weinberger related in a Dec. 13 statement. He said he was “very troubled” by the tweets and the entire situation and put the chief on administrative leave; collected his badge, gun and city phone, and ordered him off social media. Del Pozo had also allegedly denied the fake accounts existed when a news reporter asked him about them.

Weinberger said he’d kept the reasons behind the resignation private because they stemmed from “mental health conditions” that del Pozo was working through, the statement said, and he wanted to protect the former chief’s privacy.

The same did not hold for del Pozo’s replacement, Wright, who admitted to Weinberger after her appointment that she had a Facebook account under the name “Lori Spicer” “through which she made comments about and engaged citizens in discussion of Police Department policy and practice. In response.”

She also had an Instagram account under the handle @lspicer420, the Burlington Free Press reported last Tuesday. Her actions were not associated with mental health problems, the city said.

“While Deputy Chief Wright’s situation may be very different than Chief del Pozo’s, given the circumstances the department is facing, I found the failure to raise this issue with me in the lead-up to today to constitute a lapse in judgment.

By the third appointment, that of Deputy Chief Jon Murad, Weinberger had learned his lesson.

“Murad has confirmed explicitly to the City Attorney Eileen Blackwood and HR Director Deanna Paluba that he has never engaged in anonymous social media posting,” Weinberger said in announcing the official’s interim appointment.

Weinberger also recognized the need for closer social media policy scrutiny and review.

“Deputy Chief Wright’s disclosure raises the possibility that problematic social media use is far more widespread within the department than previously understood,” he said in his statement announcing Wright’s replacement. “I am troubled that more than one senior department official engaged in such activity. I will be asking an outside investigator to conduct a thorough review of the Burlington Police Department’s social media activity and practices.”