We have the opportunity and responsibility in Vermont to reimagine the role of police to be far narrower, while investing in supportive, community-based solutions for public safety, independent of the criminal legal system.
It's past time 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 role of police in our communities and make sure that police are accountable to the people they serve. Only then can we advance racial justice across the state and enable everyone who calls Vermont home to feel safer.
Police shouldn't lie to kids—or 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.
S.6 was passed with strong support in both the House and the Senate in 2023 before Governor Scott vetoed it at the urging of law enforcement leaders who have consistently opposed police reform. 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 January.
Though we are disappointed by this temporary setback, we look forward to working with lawmakers in 2024 to pass S.6 into law and join the growing number of states that have already adopted this commonsense reform.
Vermonters are over policed—especially people of color
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.
Passing a bill called 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.
While this bill did not advance in 2023, we will be advocating for its passage in 2024, when the legislature reconvenes.
True public safety requires police oversight
As the legislature moves to once again take up some of these necessary police reforms in the 2023 legislative session, 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.
This bill also did not advance in 2023, but we will continue pushing for police to be more accountable to the communities they serve.
We are continually disheartened to witness law enforcement’s vehement opposition to commonsense police reform, and a lack of legislative initiative to prioritize much-needed change. On top of that, we again saw lawmakers and public officials fail to address systemic racism in Vermont in 2023, despite repeated pledges to prioritize this work since 2020. We will continue to fight for true public safety and police accountability in the State House and in our communities.