After considerable debate and numerous drafts, a new Vermont Fair and Impartial Policing Policy has been adopted.
The policy was approved by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council.
Its purpose is to require that Vermont law enforcement agencies "conduct policing in a fair and impartial manner." The policy also seeks to, “clarify the circumstances in which officers can consider personal characteristics, or immigration status, when making law enforcement decisions…”
A key point of contention was a proposed prohibition on local law enforcement contacting federal authorities about a victim’s or witness’s immigration status.
Civil liberties and migrant justice advocates fought for the provision.
“It’s bad public policy if people are going to be afraid to come forward and make complaints to the police,” says Jay Diaz, staff attorney with ACLU of Vermont. “No one should be afraid of calling police for help or being a witness.”
Richard Gauthier, executive director of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, says council members were in philosophical agreement with Diaz and other advocates but felt a prohibition on contact between Vermont law enforcement and immigration officials conflicts with federal law.
“We were fairly incensed amongst ourselves that we lost that. But there really wasn’t anything we could do. We were told it was a violation of law and the Attorney General’s office agreed.”
Diaz says a number of municipalities in other parts of the country have adopted similar prohibitions, and a recent court ruling upheld the provision.
“The Attorney General’s office and the training council have taken a very conservative interpretation of the federal law that they refer to,” says Diaz. “We feel confident that the courts are going to come out our way.”
Gauthier says despite the lack of a prohibition the policy encourages officers to keep in mind the goal of assisting victims and witnesses to come forward without fear of action being taken against them.
According to the policy, "Vermont residents are more likely to engage with law enforcement and other officials by reporting emergencies, crimes, and acting as witnesses; to participate in economic activity; and to be engaged in civic life if they can be assured they will not be singled out for scrutiny on the basis of the personal characteristics or immigration status."
The new policy takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.