Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Department of Public Safety today announced a revised policy to strengthen bias-free policing to include direction regarding immigration status.
The new policy states that Vermont State Police troopers should not try to identify people whose only suspected violation is that they are present in the United States without proper documentation, but also makes it clear that officers should continue to investigate suspected criminal activity. The policy includes special provisions relating to law enforcement near the Canadian border, authorizing troopers to take actions concerning unlawful border crossings in progress, as well as to call for support from federal authorities when required to protect officer or public safety.
"We have the finest state police force in the country," Gov. Shumlin said. "We owe it to our troopers to provide them clear guidance about state law enforcement priorities and parameters."
The policy reaffirms "the Vermont State Police commitment to unbiased policing, to clarify the circumstances in which members can consider race, ethnicity, gender or other potentially improper criteria when making law enforcement decisions, and to reinforce procedures that serve to assure the public that we are providing service and enforcing laws in an equitable and impartial way."
Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said the enhancements to our existing bias-free policing policy were enacted to further ensure the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in Vermont, adding, "As policing in Vermont enters the next generation of law enforcement, it is important to provide meaningful direction and guidance to our members in a way that will best serve the department and individuals in Vermont, while at the same time furthering the leadership priorities set forth by Governor Shumlin."
The State Police confirmed that they will develop training in cooperation with community leaders to reflect the changes to the policy.
"This is good news," said Attorney General William Sorrell. "Now I hope more Vermont police departments will adopt bias-free policies that emphasize their primary role of enforcing Vermont criminal laws."
The Vermont State Police undertook this review following an incident in which a state trooper identified and reported an allegedly undocumented migrant farm worker to border patrol. Although an independent investigation concluded that the trooper had acted appropriately under the policy that was in effect, the incident revealed a need to provide greater clarity in the Vermont State Police policies.
Gov. Shumlin said the revised policy released today will provide clarity for Vermont State Police. But, he added, the local policy does not address the more serious issue -- that the federal government has not developed a sensible and fair immigration policy on the national level.