Vermont residents unhappy about years-long delays with body cameras for cops

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Sweeping reforms in law enforcement come to Vermont as residents pressure police to implement long, overdue reform measures.

The Vermont State Police announced a 10-point proposal specifying the agency’s reforms in practices to the state legislature.  The proposal comes after outrage against recent police-killings of Black Americans ignited demonstrations statewide.  In wake of demonstrations also carried out in Vermont, residents demanded that their input and long-standing desires for change be considered. 

In response to local outcry, the proposal refers to the present moment as a “tipping point” that pushed law enforcement and policy makers “to listen to the concerns and calls for action and accelerate this work as rapidly as possible.”

A joint effort between law enforcement, the Vermont Department of Public Safety, the Vermont Attorney General, and the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, and in consultation with the Fair and Impartial Policing Committee, a division of the Vermont State Police, the draft includes a number of motions. Some salient changes are to create and implement a statewide use-of-force policy; improve procedures of hiring, training and promotion; and to adequately investigate allegations of police misconduct while providing community oversight of and collaboration with police.

Town center in Burlington, Vermont. Photo credit: Clay Kaufmann.

While state officials declare a commitment to speedy reform, the journey towards equipping every Vermont officer with a body-camera has been long. The State Police first announced an initiative toward this goal in 2015.  As of June 2020, only specially-trained members of the Tactical Services Unit were outfitted with body-worn cameras.  The rest of law enforcement, including 216 field troopers who make up the bulk of the force, work with 20-year-old dashboard cameras and on-body microphones.  

The Vermont State Police has repeatedly cited prohibitive costs to account for the five-year delay.  In a June 10 press release, public safety commissioner, Michael Schirling, assured Vermonters that the agency is committed to obtaining body-cameras for all its officers during fiscal year 2021.  He stated that this technology is “an essential tool to enhance transparency, accountability and public trust.” 

The cost of providing the cameras and other components to the state force is estimated at $760,000, with the necessary data storage coming to an additional $230,000 annually.  

In collaboration with legislative officials, the State Police hopes to implement their proposals in the next three to six months.  The agency acknowledged that their proposal is not a solution in itself, but rather a jumping-off point to further conversation and change to forge stronger ties with the communities we serve to understand their needs and priorities and work together to resolve them.”

Sophia Moore-Smith

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