Reimagine Community Safety

We have the opportunity and responsibility to reimagine community safety so that includes all of us. By investing in supportive, community-based solutions that address the root causes of crime and reframing the role of law enforcement in our towns, cities, and state, we can foster trust, community connection, and a shared sense of true safety and accountability.

Though we have made some meaningful progress to reimagining community safety and policing through initiatives like Vermont's use of force policy passed in 2020, more must be done to end the disparate, ineffective and violent policing of communities of color, and the surveillance, targeting and harassment of Black and Brown people in this state. We must stop relying on police to respond to issues related to poverty and disinvestment, which leads to more frequent, unnecessary and aggressive actions by law enforcement toward community members.

Through thoughtful, evidence-driven reforms, we can reimagine the notion of public safety and the role of police in our communities. Only then can we advance racial justice across the state and enable everyone who calls Vermont home to feel safer.

Reforming status quo policing practices

The status quo harms our communities and erodes trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. This is due in part to the fact that the relationship between people and police officers is built on an antiquated model of "public safety" that relies on the threat of incarceration, instead of investments in initiatives that foster trust, community connections, education, economic justice, and public health. Evidence-driven policy reforms to the aspects of policing that present the greatest harm to our communities can help rebuild much-needed trust and reciprocity across our neighborhoods, towns, and cities.

Interrogation Tactics: Police shouldn't lie to kidsor to anyone

No one should be subjected to dishonest and coercive police tactics. Yet under Vermont law, officers are permitted to lie to suspects and witnesses during questioning. These practices can elicit false confessions, derail investigations, and result in wrongful convictions of innocent people. An extensive body of research confirms that youth are particularly susceptible to deceptive tactics. In addition, Black people and people of color are overrepresented in exoneration databases and in instances of false confessions.

In 2023, the ACLU advocated for the passage and expansion of S.6, a bill that would limit misleading police interrogations of juveniles in Vermont. We urged lawmakers to broaden this legislation to prevent dishonest interrogations in all cases, not just for youth. The bill passed with strong support in both the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by Governor Scott. Despite hundreds of calls to legislators urging a veto override, after a last-minute pressure campaign by the Attorney General, state's attorneys, and law enforcement leaders, the bill was sent back to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will be taken up again in 2024.

We look forward to working with lawmakers once again to pass S.6 into law and join the growing number of states that have already adopted this commonsense reform.

Smarter stops, safer roads

Police traffic stop data shows that Vermont drivers are overpoliced, and Black and Brown Vermonters are disproportionately targeted. H.176 would help to change that. 

learn more about our smarter stops campaign

H.176 would end unnecessary traffic stops in Vermont by limiting law enforcement’s ability to pull over drivers for “non-public safety” reasons—minor vehicle infractions such as an expired registration, obstructed license plate, or broken taillight. Placing stronger limits on the broad authority we have ceded to our law enforcement agencies—particularly in policing our roadways—can be one of the most direct ways to further racial justice and equity in our state. 

True public safety requires police oversight

Community oversight boards represent one of the most promising opportunities to build accountability and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. 

As introduced, S.75 would remove a major hurdle to meaningful community oversight of police by authorizing municipalities to create civilian oversight boards without undergoing a charter change. The bill would empower these boards to receive, investigate, and adjudicate complaints of misconduct against law enforcement officers, and grant them appropriate disciplinary power.

Read more in Community Oversight 101

Investing in solutions

Although we are disheartened to witness the coordinated opposition to commonsense police reform from law enforcement leaders over the last several years, we remain hopeful that our communities can and will enact reforms and solutions that foster trust across our towns and cities and deliver true community safety.

Thoughtful investments in community-based supporters like mental health and substance use disorder treatment, job training, education, health care, and community development initiatives will make our communities healthier, safer, and more vibrant and connected.

When people have access to the resources they need, our communities can thrive. Municipal and state leaders must look to experts in social services, education, public health, and economic development to scale proven and innovative solutions that transform the conditions facing our most marginalized community members. Only then can we enjoy true community safety.