Vermont officials seek feedback on updated use-of-force policy draft

Local News

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vermont Department of Public Safety is asking the public to weigh in on an updated draft of the state’s use-of-force policy.

It’s one of nearly a dozen reform efforts stemming from Gov. Phil Scott’s public safety reform initiative signed in August.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling has said the overall list of reforms is the starting point for a larger conversation about police reform.

It was developed by the State and representatives of the Fair and Impartial Policing Committee, and there seems to be consensus from all parties on some of the proposals.

“I don’t think people recognize as readily that there’s far more consensus on where to go relative to operations and policy than there is division,” Schirling said. “Sometimes, we have different ideas on how to get to that end state.”

The draft covers the use of lethal force, the use of pepper spray, batons and police dogs, as well as the responsibility to provide medical care for someone who’s injured in custody. It would also institute a statewide data collection system for use-of-force incidents.

The overall reform list covers hiring, training and promotion practices, and transparent and consistent investigations into police misconduct allegations. The recommendations also include a body camera requirement, increased community collaboration and oversight, and a unified stance on using military surplus equipment.

“One of the things we talked about was unifying key policies on a statewide basis,” Schirling said. “So as things accelerated through summer with the national attention shifting to use of force, it was an opportunity to accelerate the work on this.”

Earlier this year, Tabitha Moore, who serves on the Fair and Impartial Policing Committee, described the proposals as a significant step forward, but also emphasized the work ahead.

“The attempt here is to unify policing efforts and encourage that internal reflection and dialogue about whether or not you can get on board with 21st Century policing and practices and way of thinking about the work,” Moore said. “I think it’s a real challenge to the law enforcement community to either step up or get out.”

As far as 2021 is concerned when it comes to police reform or modernization, Schirling said it’s a fluid situation, and that’s not unique to this particular list of reforms.

“None of the policies that govern the operation of law enforcement agencies in Vermont are static, they’re always under revision,” Schirling said. “We’re constantly looking at events that unfold, changing community standards, the experience of agencies both in Vermont and around the country… Taking what we can learn from those and embedding them into policy, operations and training.”

The public comment period on the updated use-of-force policy draft is open until January 6, but Schirling said there will likely be other opportunities to weigh in as changes are made.

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