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Voices / Letters from readers

Why haven’t VSP and Windham County sheriff adopted statewide policy on fair and impartial policing?

RE: “VSP describes measures to study traffic-stop bias, improve diversity” [News, Jan. 2]:

Thank you for your detailed coverage of the Dec. 16 meeting in Putney about fair and impartial policing in Vermont.

I’ve heard Lt. Garry Scott speak before, and every time I learn about new initiatives. I appreciate the efforts of the Vermont State Police to improve diversity in their ranks, to train officers on a variety of social justice issues, and to reduce bias in traffic stops.

What wasn’t mentioned, though, was that the Vermont State Police have refused to adopt the statewide fair and impartial policing policy. Vermont Act 54 (2017–2018) mandated that all law enforcement agencies adopt the recently revised policy by April 2018.

An agency that chose not to adopt it was required to submit changes to the office of the attorney general (AG) office for approval. The AG’s office has not been very communicative on this issue, but last I heard (October), they had not approved any of the policies that were submitted.

Our group, ACLU People Power of Windham County, has been studying the fair and impartial policing policy since March 2017 and meeting with local law enforcement about it.

We’ve found that the Vermont State Police are using a policy from 2014, as well as a separate victims’ policy.

Several important sections of the statewide policy are not included. As an example, two large sections about collaboration with federal officers are omitted. These include prohibitions on inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless it’s necessary for investigation of a criminal offense, as well as not holding or transferring people to federal immigration agents unless they have a judicial warrant.

The Windham County Sheriff’s office has also not adopted the statewide policy. One of the problematic sentences in their policy is that they have added “intentionally” so that it now reads, “Employees are prohibited from intentionally engaging in biased policing.” This removes the possibility of implicit bias — a very important issue that was addressed at the meeting.

I thank Chief Michael Fitzgerald and the Brattleboro Police Department for accepting the mandated statewide fair and impartial policing policy in its entirety. While improvements could be made, in my opinion, the statewide policy is much better than the Vermont State Police and Windham County Sheriff’s policies.

Ann Schroeder

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Originally published in The Commons issue #492 (Wednesday, January 9, 2019). This story appeared on page D2.

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