Commission says Vt. police need to deal with perception of racial profiling

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(Host) There’s a widespread perception among Vermont’s minority population that police use racial profiling as a key factor in making traffic stops.

A commission on civil rights says it’s working with local and state law enforcement to deal with this problem.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been studying the issue of racial profiling for several years.

The group held a series of public hearings last summer and has taken a lot of testimony on this issue in the last 24 months.

Curtis Reed Jr. is the chairman of the Vermont panel.

(Reed) "During these briefings the committee heard that there continues to be a perception that police use race and ethnicity as a factor in stopping people. The committee also heard the leadership of the Vermont law enforcement community is committed to directly confronting and addressing this issue."

(Kinzel) Reed says it’s hard to tell how widespread the problem actually is.  That’s why his panel wants all local and state law enforcement agencies to begin collecting information about the race and ethnicity of individuals who are pulled over for a traffic stop.

(Reed) "Data collection is important because there is no reliable way to measure the problem. Instead, we only have anecdotal evidence and perceptions about bias policing."

(Kinzel) Another key recommendation calls for all police departments to conduct ongoing anti-bias educational programs for their officers.

Panel member Ellen Fallon says her group would like to see these programs implemented on a voluntary basis. If, after a period of time these programs aren’t in place, Fallon thinks they should mandated by law.

(Fallon) "Law enforcement agencies that currently have a minimum commitment in terms of education will expand those opportunities for their own rank and file officers based on the findings of this report and the information that can be provided to them. But the legislative piece is that we think that that should ultimately have teeth."

(Kinzel) The panel’s report says the anti-bias policies of the Vermont State Police serve as a model for many local departments.  Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay says his agency is trying to deal with this issue in a direct and fair way.

(Tremblay) "Population increase in Vermont has been about 30 percent ethnic or racial minority. Vermont is changing. Vermont law enforcement needs to embrace that change and professionally prepare for how we police in a growing multi-cultural community. And those are where efforts are going to be directed at."

(Kinzel) The report also calls on lawmakers to consider legislation that prohibits racial profiling of motorists and to create an oversight commission to help monitor the implementation of local anti-bias programs.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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