Back in August, we joined the ACLU of Vermont, Justice for All, and over a dozen other organizations in proposing a 10-point platform for reimagining policing in Vermont. Now, Vermont has an opportunity to take an incremental but concrete step towards improving public safety with legislation governing police use of force statewide.
This use of force bill, S.119, would promote peaceful, de-escalatory resolution while also providing clarity and uniformity around how and when police are authorized to use physical force in our state. It would provide stricter guidelines for use of force, recognizing that it should only be used as a last resort. While no panacea for the ills of our system of public safety, S.119 is a step in the right direction.
After passing the Senate in June, the bill has been substantially improved in the House. Improvements include placing standards on all instances of police use of force (not only deadly use of force) and strengthening language that would require that use of force be necessary in a given situation based on all context of a given encounter, or the “totality of circumstances,” not just the seconds immediately preceding the use of force.
The Senate and House Judiciary Committees have been considering the bill since last week, and now it’s time to act on this legislation before the Legislature adjourns for the rest of the year. Please encourage your local legislators to pass this important bill this year.
Vermont has an opportunity to reform our policing system to be more just, equitable, and to better protect all communities in our state. With horrifying cases of police violence across the country surfacing time and again, and Vermont having its own significant problems we must address, we all have an obligation to reexamine our systems of public safety with a commitment to making sure that they actually do just that: improve the safety and security of the public, without continuing to perpetuate systemic racism. That’s a big job, and S.119 is a small step – but a worthwhile one.
We’ll keep you updated as to whether this bill advances this session. And moving forward, we will be working hard to advance other policies that further promote public safety for all Vermonters.