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New Policy Helps Clarify Police Role In Immigration Enforcement

Supporters hope a new policy will help reduce ethnic and racial bias in state policing.

Beginning July 1, Vermont law enforcement agencies will operate under a new bias-free policing policy. Those involved in writing it say it represents a step forward in the effort to reduce ethnic and racial bias in policing.

The idea is to consolidate existing sets of guidelines, and address any shortcomings, into a single policy.

The creation of the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy was mandated by the Legislature.

Lawmakers were motivated in part by the illegal detention in 2015 of Lorenzo Alcudia, a Mexican citizen who was a passenger in a car pulled over in a routine traffic stop.

A number of social justice groups worked with the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council to craft the policy, which was finalized this week.

“What we ended up with is a policy that was a little bit clearer on when officers could and couldn’t make inquiries about immigration status and there is a little bit of clarity offered in regards to when officers can participate in federal programs,” says Rick Gauthier, executive director of the council.

He says the final policy represents a compromise between advocates and law enforcement.

Will Lambek, of the group Migrant Justice, says the policy should prevent illegal detentions like Lorenzo Alcudia’s.

“That’s an area we strengthened considerably,” he says.

"The role of Vermont law enforcement is to administer Vermont justice. It's not to overstep their authority in enforcing federal civil immigration laws." — Will Lambek, Migrant Justice

But Lambek is concerned about provisions in the policy that are designated non-essential and are therefore not required directives.

He says those provisions could still allow local officers to assist federal immigration authorities. For example, they could hold someone longer than necessary just to give federal agents an opportunity to detain them.

“The role of Vermont law enforcement is to administer Vermont justice. It’s not to overstep their authority in enforcing federal civil immigration laws,” says Lambek.

Hinesburg Rep. Bill Lippert was a lead sponsor of the legislation requiring the single fair and impartial policing policy.

“I frankly felt like they arrived at a pretty good compromise at this point, with a commitment to continue to look at the issues,” he says.

Lippert says the policy is part of an ongoing effort to address bias in policing.

“There’s a lot more that needs to happen and I think at the same time it’s fair to recognize that there are steps being taken in Vermont law enforcement, particularly state police, I would say, and some local,” says Lippert.

He cites the creation of a full-time state police director of fair and impartial policing as a positive step.

Lippert says recent data showing racial disparities in state police traffic stops needs to be analyzed and acted upon at all levels of law enforcement.  

The new policy, he says, is part of an effort that extends even beyond law enforcement.

“Law enforcement’s work is all being done in the context of the larger societal issues around race. These are hard and absolutely critical issues for states, including Vermont, and maybe even especially Vermont,” says Lippert.

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