Burlington Free Press
Published 8:35 PM EDT Oct 18, 2018
BURLINGTON, Vt. – Late Tuesday night, Burlington police Chief Brandon del Pozo posted a Facebook response to obituary about a young woman who died after struggling for years with opiate addiction. By the next morning, it seemed the whole world knew about it.
Del Pozo's post about the obit for Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir has been read by more than twice the population of Burlington on BurlingtonFreePress.com alone.
According to her family, the 30-year-old Linsenmeir began using OxyContin for the first time at a high school party. She was, "hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient."
The obituary goes on to say that using "is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support."
Del Pozo's response has been shared a few thousand times on social media, his bluntness echoed and criticized.
"Did readers think this was the first time a beautiful, young, beloved mother from a pastoral state got addicted to Oxy and died from the descent it wrought?" the police chief wrote. "And what about the rest of the victims, who weren't as beautiful and lived in downtrodden cities or the rust belt? They too had mothers who cried for them and blamed themselves."
More: Burlington police chief reacts to Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir obituary: 'I have a problem'
Democratic candidate for governor Christine Hallquist shared his post, thanking him for his words. Timothy Burke, a journalist for the Daily Beast, tweeted the post with the words, "Please elect this man to replace Bernie Sanders, Vermont."
All of this national attention emerged Wednesday as the chief attended a Burlington police retreat. He'd arranged for two scientists specializing in addiction science and addiction psychiatry to give a presentation to his officers.
"It couldn't have been more of a good coincidence," del Pozo said Thursday. "As we're teaching our officers about addiction science, there's a parallel national conversation growing around the topic."
The officers, he said, were visibly impressed during the presentation and gained a deeper understanding of some of the department's new approaches in policing people struggling with addiction.
"It made me realize how important it was that my post be out there," he said.
He has received a flood of responses, he said. Many are from people who have been touched by the opioid epidemic, thanking him for his words. Others praised him for bringing the issues to their attention and said his recommendations – such as ending prosecution of persons with addiction for misdemeanor-level drug possession – are interesting.
More: Vermont obituary tells of opioid struggle
And a few people – not many, but a few, he said – sent him angry messages asking why he had a problem with such a beautiful obituary.
He has had some interview requests, including Boston news outlets and NPR. He said he was glad for the opportunity to spotlight some of the ways Burlington has tackled the opioid epidemic, such as pushing to lower access to buprenorphine.
Being vocal about approaches to addiction has been a fundamental part of his role as police chief, he said.
"When the mayor hired me, one of his requirements was that he and I work together to help Burlington address the opioid crisis," he said.
Would he ever run for office, as the one tweet suggested?
"It's a crazy question," said del Pozo, who holds a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard. He worked 18 years with the New York City Police Department before he was chosen as Burlington's top cop three years ago.
Right now, he's satisfied as the city's chief of police, he said.
"I'm flattered that people feel like they're well-led in the hands of the Burlington Police Department. I'm going to need another job after this, but I have no idea what's that going to be," he said, laughing.
Follow Jess Aloe on Twitter: @jess_aloe; follow Evan Weiss on Twitter: @eaweiss