A Call For Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement

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A Call For Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Vermont 

It is imperative that civilian oversight be implemented to ensure appropriate law enforcement transparency and accountability. History has taught us that in the absence of law enforcement transparency and accountability the general public has more times than not questioned law enforcement legitimacy. We have all witnessed numerous instances where the resulting loss of public trust has stood as an obstacle to the crucial working relationship required between law enforcement and the community. Here is the problem:

Use of Force

Over the last couple of years alone we have seen the shootings of Bernard Rougeau, Benjamin Gregware, Nathan Giffin, Mark Triolo, Michael Battles, Phil" Grenon, and the list goes on.  The ACLU has implored the police of Vermont to stop the shootings and offered numerous recommendations to do  so.

The most ominous aspect of the dilemma that we face is the blind spot existing as a result of missing data.  It is imperative that use of force data be collected by all agencies and made publicly available.  To date, only the Burlington Police Department has made such data available and the numbers are dismal for black people.  With 27 forms of use of force, how many more ways can you imagine that people could be being traumatized with impunity?

The "State Police Advisory Commission" SPAC is held out as the best example of oversight in Vermont.  Seven days spoke of the ineffectiveness of the body in the Spring of 2018. Despite the conflict of interest being brought to the attention of the Assistant Attorney General over one year ago, Governor Scott reappointed Nancy Sheahan to Chair the SPAC.  Sheahan, a partner at the Burlington firm McNeil Leddy & Sheahan is "a go-to lawyer for Vermont cops who have been accused of mistakes or wrongdoing." All of this and in almost EVERY instance, law enforcement are cleared from any wrongdoing by the States Attorney or the Attorney General, perhaps suppressing the video.

The Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (FIPP)

Inconstant with process outlined in Act 54, the VCJTC changed the FIPP without the consultation of the Human Rights Commission in November of 2017.  This was done in response to a threat from then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withhold a grant valued at over five hundred thousand dollars. It is no wonder that now we find that the Vermont State Police have failed to adopt the FIPP, as required by law (Act 54). 


Act 147 (2016) updated Title 20, 2358, requiring all law enforcement to attend "anti-bias training approved by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council and training on the State, county, or municipal law enforcement agency’s fair and impartial policing policy"... On or before December 31, 2018".  There is no indication that this deadline will be met by Vermont law enforcement.

Early December, 2018, it was discovered that the State Police scheduled to attend a program that brings local law enforcement to Israel for training with the Israeli military, police and secret service. Local activists called them on it and they backed out of their plans to attend. Despite our calls, there remains no consistent appropriate use of force, escalation and cross cultural awareness training across the 79 agencies in Vermont.   

We can not afford to compromise this community cooperation, for it is one the most vital tools at law enforcement's disposal to ensure public safety. In the absence of law enforcement transparency and accountability the entire community is threatened, resulting in us all being less safe.  Here are our demands:

  1. We call on the Attorney General to investigate compliance with Title 20, 2366 and 2358 and hold the pubic safety commissioner accountable to the law
  2. We call on the legislature to execute its constitutional responsibility to be accountable to the people by “governing and regulating internal police” with sufficient civilian oversight of law enforcement; codify remedies for law enforcement violations of Title 20, 2366 and 2358; legally prohibit racial profiling; mandate the incorporation of the collection of use of force data into the existing traffic race data collection data set outlined in Title 20, 2366; mandate that all law enforcement agencies be required to implement consistent Appropriate Use of Force, De-escallation and Cross cultural Awareness Training, and mandate that all law enforcement agencies be required to undertake appropriate Use of force, De-escalation and Cross Cultural awareness training (and in service).
  3. We call on the Governor to hold the Public Safety Commissioner accountable for racial equity in enforcement and remove Nancy Sheahan from the State Police Advisory Commission 

*Below is the petition as originally submitted three years ago*

In September 2015, two Burlington police officers shot James Hemingway, after turning off their body cameras.  The Chittenden County States Attorney cleared them of any wrongdoing.  A no knock warrant resulting in a civilian death in December, 2015 and yet another in March of 2016.  All of these incidents are routinely investigated “internally” and by the States Attorney’s offices, with whom they work on a regular basis.

In Rutland, one officer resigned and the second retired after allegations of racial profiling, discrimination, assault and other misconduct.   Dozens of other cases involving law enforcement misconduct and excessive use of force have been investigated across the state over the last number of years and with very little exception a high degree of impunity.  From the killings of Robert Wooodward and Joseph Fortunati to the abuses of Brian Slutz and Anton Pike, law enforcement has not been held accountable.

Additionally, law enforcement have no de-escalation, appropriate use of force or anti-bias training as components of their mandatory annual in-services training requirements.   Law enforcement officers literally have to be convicted of a felony to be decertified in Vermont.    Appallingly, police are one profession in the state of Vermont that are not overseen by the Office of Professional Regulation, the agency that oversees over 40 professions. 

Even The Police Chief Magazine is on record in support of such oversight.

We deserve reasonable transparency in matters where peace officers use force against civilians.  Without it, it is only natural that the public will begin to question police integrity and as a result, their legitimacy.  There is nothing more important for law enforcement than transparency and legitimacy, if they hope to effectively uphold their sworn obligation to protect, serve and provide public safety for all.

Please sign this petition for Vermont public safety.

Justice For All


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