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Column: Seeking language that can work for Hartford

For the Valley News
Published: 9/3/2019 10:20:12 PM
Modified: 9/3/2019 10:20:06 PM

Hartford

The Vermont Legislature has been discussing fair and impartial policing policies since as early as 2008.

In 2010, then-Attorney General William Sorrell proposed a “Bias-Free Policing Policy” that recognized the civil rights of all people within Vermont’s borders. “This policy was developed in collaboration with law enforcement agencies and community advocates from around the state and it reflects the most fundamental concept of our democracy — that government, in this case police, shall treat all people equally,” Sorrell said.

In 2016, the Legislature enacted a statewide Fair and Impartial Policing policy, and amendments have been made over the past few years to, for example, establish clearer data requirements and expectations on the part of Vermont law enforcement agencies.

In the 2019 legislative session, House Bill 518 (now Act 41) was signed into law by the governor. This law speaks directly to the engagement of local agencies with federal authorities. The law states: “Such agencies and constables may include additional restrictions on agency members’ communication and involvement with federal immigration authorities or communications regarding citizenship or immigration status. Agencies and constables may not adopt a policy that allows for greater communication or involvement with federal immigration authorities than is permitted under the model policy.” (Details about Act 41 and the Fair and Impartial Policing policy are at https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.518.)

Using language suggested by the advocacy group Migrant Justice, the city of Winooski enacted a policy that limited cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. This language was also suggested to the Legislature by Migrant Justice; however, the language was not adopted due to conflict with federal law.

In accordance with Vermont law, the Vermont Crime Research Group has been tasked with collecting traffic stop and race data from every state, local, county and municipal law enforcement agency in Vermont on an annual basis. The data must be posted electronically in a manner that is analyzable and accessible to the public. Each agency is required to work with the Criminal Justice Training Council toward the goals of collecting uniform data, adopting uniform storage methods and periods, and ensuring that data can be analyzed. The analysis seeks to identify racial disparities in traffic stops.

As of Sept. 1, 2014, every state, county and municipal law enforcement agency must collect data from roadside stops consisting of the age, gender and race of the driver; the reason for the stop; the type of search conducted, if any; the evidence located, if any; and the outcome of the stop, including whether a written warning or a citation for a civil violation was issued; a citation or arrest for a misdemeanor or a felony occurred; or no subsequent action was taken.

While Vermont does have more work to do, the data thus far do show the Vermont State Police making progress in reducing racial disparity in traffic stops. We are encouraged by the efficacy of the VSP’s measures and the implications for other law enforcement entities in the state.

I represent Hartford on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction and co-sponsorship of H 518/Act 41. Both the Senate and House judiciary committees worked on this bill.

It is important to understand that during the legislative process, testimony was presented to the Legislature by more than 100 Vermonters from myriad sources — affected individuals protected under Vermont and federal laws, advocates for these individuals, law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, the Vermont judiciary, the Vermont Immigration Task Force, the ACLU, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and many, many more. The actual testimonies are documented on the House and Senate Judiciary Committee web pages.

A number of those testifying suggested very strict language that would put the Fair and Impartial Policing policy in conflict with federal law. As you can see, the Legislature had the same difficulty reconciling the policy with federal law that the town of Hartford is now having. The “Welcoming Hartford Ordinance” is an effort to find language that can work for Hartford.

I would be happy to speak with any of you if it would be helpful.

Kevin “Coach” Christie represents the Windsor 4-2 district in the Vermont House of Representatives. He can be reached by email at kchristie@leg.state.vt.us.




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