Vermont House OKs collecting profiling data
By DAVE GRAM
The Associated Press | May 02,2014
MONTPELIER — After about 90 minutes of impassioned debate about alleged racial profiling by police, the Vermont House on Thursday advanced legislation to collect data statewide on the race of people pulled over in traffic stops.
Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Vermont State Police and several departments around Burlington already have “bias-free policing” policies.
“It is not OK for someone to travel in one part of Vermont and to fear being racially profiled because that part of Vermont does not have law enforcement policies that are consistent with bias-free policing,” Lippert said.
Perceived bias in Vermont’s criminal justice system has been an issue for years. Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, said African-American men make up less than 1 percent of Vermont’s population, but about 13 percent of its prisoners.
Rep. Douglas Gage. R-Rutland, told his colleagues that he teaches at a prison and none of the black inmates had ever complained to him that they had been racially profiled.
“Collecting data on this will put one more burden on local police officers ... especially during an emergency response,” Gage said.
But others argued it was necessary to collect data on roadside stops to see whether the training against bias police officers are receiving is having the desired effect.
“You can’t have training and policies in place and then have no way to (know) if they’re working,” Ram said.
Lippert said Vermont passed a law calling for police officers statewide to be trained in racial sensitivity, but that compliance had not been consistent and that no one was currently responsible for ensuring the policies are put in place and followed. The bill would put that responsibility on the state Criminal Justice Training Council.
The new bill would require all police departments to follow bias-free policies substantially similar to those used by the Vermont State Police and recommended by the attorney general’s office.
The bill would be a win for the advocacy group Migrant Justice, which represents immigrant farmworkers in Vermont. The group had argued for adopting the state police policy, rather than one adopted by a state oversight board, because the police version calls on officers to not automatically assume that people who appear to be Latino should have their immigration status checked, unless they’re found engaging in criminal behavior.
The bill also called for new standards in conducting investigative line-ups for eyewitnesses to identify perpetrators, and for police to make audio recordings of interviews when they have a suspect in custody in a homicide or sexual assault investigation.