Latest report on Vermont State Police trooper discipline dominated by vehicle pursuit policy violations

By ALAN J. KEAYS

VTDigger

Published: 04-07-2024 5:02 PM

Failing to follow the Vermont State Police’s vehicle pursuit policy led to disciplinary action against five troopers during the first six months of 2023, according to the law enforcement agency. The information is contained in the latest semiannual state police report regarding internal investigations.

In addition to the violations of the pursuit policy, the report issued earlier this month listed 10 additional allegations against troopers ranging from criminal conduct to the negligent discharge of a firearm.

In four incidents from the first six months of 2023, according to the report, the troopers involved resigned before an internal probe could be completed. In 11 instances, troopers were found to have committed policy violations, while in three others no policy violations were found.

The reports provide brief summaries of misconduct allegations and policy violations that were investigated and presented to the advisory commission. That seven-member panel provides “advice and counsel” to Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison on misconduct allegations against members of the state police. By far, the most cited violation in the report dealt with the vehicle pursuit policy. However, little else is known about the nature of those incidents. The agency’s reports do not outline the specific details nor the identities of the troopers involved — which has in the past provoked criticism that little can be gleaned from them.

The Vermont Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state police, and the State Police Advisory Commission said that the identities of the troopers, as well as identifying details of the incidents, are withheld because internal affairs investigations are confidential by statute. All five troopers who violated the vehicle pursuit policy received letters of reprimand, according to the report. Two in that group also lost two days of annual leave, and one lost one day of annual leave.

Adam Silverman, a Vermont State Police spokesperson, said each of the five vehicle pursuit cases stems from a “unique” instance. “There were five separate incidents that violated the pursuit policy,” he said.

Asked for additional and specific information regarding the circumstances surrounding the violations, Silverman replied that he couldn’t provide those details, noting the law is “very clear on what is and is not allowed to be released” about internal affairs investigations. “If anyone in Vermont, the media or otherwise, would like there to be additional transparency, then we would encourage you to go to the Legislature and change the law,” he said.

In an emailed statement in response to questions, Maj. David Peterson, commander of the state police’s Field Force Division, said state police most recently updated its vehicle pursuit policy in 2021, including several protocols designed to curtail vehicle pursuits.

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“Vehicle pursuits are a high-risk procedure, presenting a heightened danger not only to the suspect and officers involved in the pursuit, but other uninvolved persons in the vicinity,” Petersen said in his statement.

The current policy limits pursuits to instances where there is probable cause to believe a violent crime has taken place, Petersen said. Pursuits also require oversight by an “uninvolved” supervisor.

Since the policy change, Petersen added, state police have seen a decline in the number of vehicle pursuits.

“Law enforcement activities often require making critical decisions in very short periods of time. Mistakes can be made,” Petersen said.

He noted that the violations summarized in the most recent report happened “roughly 18-24 months after the updated policy was implemented,” and said the report demonstrated that the review process was effective.

“A shift in field practices can take time to become ingrained in an organization’s culture,” he said.

In addition to instances involving pursuit policy violations, the latest state police report regarding internal affairs investigations described an incident stemming from a January 2023 allegation that a trooper committed misdemeanor and felony offenses related to the theft of evidence and code of conduct violations on and off duty.

The trooper is not named in the report. However, the description is similar to incidents that led to criminal charges against former trooper Giancarlo DiGenova. He has pleaded not guilty to almost two dozen criminal charges relating to allegations that he stole seized property.

Another incident from January 2023 related to an allegation that a trooper took part in an “off-duty physical altercation.” The outcome: “The member resigned before the completed investigation could be reviewed and adjudicated by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.”

Two troopers who were found to have “engaged in unbecoming conduct while off-duty” resigned before investigations could be completed, the report stated.

A finding that a trooper “failed to participate in a court process” resulted in the loss of two days of annual leave, according to the report.

A trooper from an incident report in March 2023 who “experienced a negligent discharge of a department-issued firearm” was suspended for four days without pay.

Also, a trooper who violated policy in “response to missing persons investigations” was issued a letter of reprimand, according to the report.

An instance of a trooper who was accused of engaging in “unbecoming conduct with colleagues and engaged in insubordination” resulted in a policy violation for insubordination and the trooper receiving a letter of reprimand and loss of two days of annual leave.