Vt. lawmakers continue police reforms in wake of Chauvin verdict

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:29 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers continue to work on police reform measures following Tuesday’s verdict in the trial over George Floyd’s murder.

In the wake of last summer’s protests, Vermont lawmakers passed several reforms including mandating body cameras, banning chokeholds, and creating one of the strongest use of deadly force laws in the country.

“Just as importantly, the training and hiring practices -- we need to see a change in the culture of policing,” said Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington.

Reform efforts roll on this year as lawmakers clarify points to last summer’s laws and streamline policies statewide. As the nation takes pause following the Minneapolis trial, advocates say last summer’s laws are just the beginning. “Vermonters are being over-policed and that’s especially bad for Black and brown Vermonters. We want to increase accountability and decrease the footprint of law enforcement and make sure that those resources are being deployed in the most effective ways in our communities,” said Falko Schilling with the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

The ACLU is pushing for removing school resource officers and ending qualified immunity, the policy which shields officers from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.

And though Vermont is making progress in advancing policy and reform, some say we aren’t isolated from the national discourse. Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says he’s concerned about the national message affecting recruitment and retention of police officers. “What we don’t want is a self-fulfilling prophecy that we criticize the folks doing this work so intensely that only those who don’t care about the criticism are doing the work,” he said.

Others say reforming policing is just the start, and that eradicating systemic racism takes an all-in approach that addresses issues including prison reform, BIPOC homeownership, health care, and other inequalities laid bare during the pandemic. “The numbers keep getting disproportionate, so we all have to be sounding the alarm that this isn’t a welcoming place for Black and brown Americans. And unless we make it a more welcoming place, our disparities will grow and our ability to have a future as a state will be limited,” said Sen. Kesha Ram, D-Chittenden County.

Last year’s police reform laws don’t become effective until October, and it will take more time and data to see if they’re making a difference.

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