Vt. panel outlines plan to stop racial profiling

Stresses procedure during traffic stops

By Lisa Rathke
Associated Press / August 12, 2009

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MONTPELIER - A panel studying racial profiling in Vermont recommended yesterday that all police departments collect data on the race of drivers who are stopped, install video cameras in all cruisers, and expand mandatory antibias training for officers.

The committee first took up the issue in March 2006, when it heard that some people felt targeted by police because of their race or ethnicity. Last summer, the panel heard testimony from law enforcement, state officials, and the public.

While the panel learned that some people believe officers use race and ethnicity as factors when stopping people, it also heard that law enforcement leaders are committed to addressing the issue, said committee chairman Curtiss Reed, who is also executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.

He pointed to police departments in Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, and the University of Vermont, which voluntarily started collecting data on the race of drivers during traffic stops.

He also said a community group called the Uncommon Alliance has raised concerns about racial profiling and has worked to improve police-community relations in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous area. The head of the State Police also has formed a committee to discuss how to collect traffic stop data statewide.

Vermont is 96.5 percent white, according to 2009 Census data, but the state has a growing refugee population. Ethnic and racial minorities made up 30 percent of the state’s population growth from 1990 to 2006, the report said.

US Census Bureau estimates from 2009 show Vermont’s population was 1.2 percent Asian, 1.3 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 0.8 percent black, the report said.

“Public trust is the essential foundation for effective law enforcement,’’ said the state’s public safety commissioner, Thomas Tremblay. “We clearly have concerns within our growing multicultural community and the community as a whole in Vermont regarding whether it be perception or reality of racial profiling it needs to be addressed.’’

Among the panel’s recommendations:

■ The Legislature should consider prohibiting profiling of motorists and pedestrians solely on the basis of actual or perceived race, ethnicity or national origin

■ The state attorney general, in consultation with local, county, and state law enforcement agencies, should develop a bias-free policing policy that defines professional standards and expectations, establishes an early intervention system for complaints and concerns, and provides remedial steps, including disciplinary action for policy violation.

■ Police should install video cameras in all front-line patrol vehicles to be used to record all motor vehicle stops.

“Effective law enforcement to protect the public safety depends on public trust,’’ Reed said. “And law enforcement needs confidence that the community supports it.’’

The panel is expected to know more about the extent of racial profiling in the state in about two years, Reed said.