House Votes to Expand Police Powers

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(Host) The House Friday afternoon, by a two to one margin, gave its preliminary approval to legislation that will give law enforcement officers new power to take people into custody. Opponents argued that the measure gives the police too much discretion in determining whom to arrest.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The debate in the House over this bill at times was very heated.

Currently, the police can only take someone directly into custody for alleged felony violations. Individuals charged with most misdemeanors are cited into court, but there are some exceptions. Under this legislation, a police officer would be able to arrest an individual for any misdemeanor offense. If the police officer did not witness the alleged crime, the arrest could still take place if the officer felt there was probable cause.

Hartford Representative Michael Kainen told House members that the changes are needed to give police officers more discretion in making arrests:

(Kainen) “That brief arrest means that the officer – if I’ve committed a crime, a simple assault say, or he has probable cause to believe that I’ve committed a crime – is going to bring me down to the station. Once he gets me down to the station, he can make the decision as to whether he’s going to cut me loose on a citation, an invitation to come back to court later on, or whether he’s going to call a court clerk to see whether he can get bail.”

Burlington Representative Steve Hingtgen said the bill is a major erosion of personal rights and he urged House members to reject it:

(Hingtgen) “The member who reported this bill said in a euphemistic way, we’re talking about the way we reorganize the way people are brought into the criminal justice system. Sure we’re talking about reorganizing – so that more are brought into the criminal justice system for lesser offenses. The member called it a ‘brief detention.’ What the member failed to say was that that brief detention could be an arrest over the weekend and you could find yourself with your can in a jail cell over the weekend for something as minor as a gambling offense. This is not a small bill. This is a major reorganization of our system.”

The measure will come up for final approval in the House on Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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