Fair & Impartial Policing in Vermont
History & Background:
In response to repeated instance of racial profiling and collaboration between local police and immigration officials, Migrant Justice has been working for many years to implement bias free policing policies in the state. Years of courageous organizing by immigrants and people of color in Vermont resulted in 2016’s robust Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (FIPP) which upheld the principle of equal treatment under the law by protecting all Vermonters from biased policing based on personal characteristics (like race, gender, or sexual orientation) or immigration status and limiting local police from engaging in immigration enforcement.
The 2016 FIPP victory arrived after years of organizing by Migrant Justice to advance a powerful, worker-defined human rights platform. In 2014, farmworkers descended on the State House to win passage of Act 193, which mandated that all police departments in the state implement FIP policies and gave a July 1st, 2016 deadline for departments to adopt the model state policy. The law explicitly named Migrant Justice as an organization that must be at the table developing the anti-discrimination measures, and we have done so alongside our allies at the ACLU, Justice for All, the Human Rights Commission, and the Peace and Justice Center.
The 2016 FIPP was an exemplary policy, creating extensive guidelines to limit police collaboration with deportation agents; however, many departments around the state chose not to fully implement the policy. This prompted Migrant Justice and others to go back to the State House in 2017, passing a law compelling departments to implement the policy in full. Police officials took advantage of this to reopen discussions on the model policy, in an attempt to water it down. Despite the powerful testimony of farmworkers, widespread ally support — as well as footage of Franklin county’s deputy sheriff calling Border Patrol to a routine traffic stop because of blatant racial profiling — on December 12th, 2017 a group of law enforcement officials voted to weaken Vermont’s Fair and Impartial Policing policy, effectively opening the door for increased discrimination and police collaboration with Trump’s deportation agents.
The current statewide VT Fair and Impartial Policing Policy:
The current statewide model FIPP can be found by visiting the Criminal Justice Training Council webpage: https://vcjtc.vermont.gov/content/model-fair-and-impartial-policing-policy
This most recent version of the FIPP was approved by the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council in December 2017, and is currently being implemented by law enforcement agencies across the state. Although bias free policing policies like this are increasingly important given the Trump administration’s extreme anti-immigrant stance – the 2017 statewide Model FIPP falls short of what community stakeholders have advocated for in several key areas:
- It allows the sharing of confidential information with immigration agents, so long as it’s justified on grounds of “public safety” or “law enforcement needs”
- It evades prohibitions on asking about immigration status by allowing officers to rely on the pretext that the person is suspected of having recently crossed the border
- It allows for the reporting of immigration status of victims and witnesses of crimes to deportation agents
- It grants deportation agents access to individuals in police custody, effectively turning local police stations into temporary holding cells for ICE and Border Patrol
Another of the key differences between the state model policy (less strong) and the Winooski policy (much stronger) is that the Winooski policy has taken out all mention of the federal statute 8 USC 1373. This is the law that Trump has been using to threaten denying federal funding to cities and towns with sanctuary policies that limit the sharing of information between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials. However, it is important to understand that many of the changes we’re calling for with the Winooski policy have little to do with federal statutes and were not even mentioned in a recent letter from the Trump administration questioning Vermont’s policy. Furthermore, in ruling after ruling, courts have sided with states that have implemented policy to protect immigrant rights roundly rejecting Trump’s strategy of using federal funding as a cudgel to force local jurisdictions to comply with his agenda of mass deportation.
Strengthening the FIPP:
Despite the weakening of Vermont’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy, Migrant Justice is organizing town by town to encourage local governments and police departments to go beyond state requirements and create a firewall between local officers and federal deportation agents.
In March of 2020 Hartford, Vermont finally won a multi-year campaign to enact stronger protections for immigrant community members by strengthening it’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy (FIPP). Several days later, the town of Norwich followed suit. Across the river in New Hampshire two others towns passed similar policies, and on March 10th 2020, Burlington won a historic victory when the City Council voted 11-1 to close the loopholes in their FIPP. With these groundbreaking victories under our belt, it’s time to use this momentum to organize!
Currently there are four towns in Vermont (as well as two towns in NH) which have taken action to protect immigrant community members and pass stronger versions of the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. Those towns are Winooski, Hartford, Norwich and Burlington. Winooski was the first town to organize for a stronger policy and you can read the language which they adopted in collaboration with Migrant Justice, the ACLU and other stakeholders. (Check out the Winooski FIPP by visiting: https://winooskipd.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/03-01-18-fip-policy.pdf) Hartford, Norwich and Burlington’s improved FIPPs are also based on the same policy language.