State Revises Its 'Bias-Free' Policing Policy

11/04/11 4:04PM By Ross Sneyd
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AP/Vermont State Police
The arrest of migrant farmworkers by Vermont State Police earlier this year, shown in a photo taken from the dashboard video camera inside a cruiser, prompted a review of the "bias-free" policing policy.

(Host) The controversial arrest earlier this year of two migrant farmworkers led state police to revise their "bias-free" policing policy.

As VPR's Ross Sneyd reports, the updated regulations were released Friday.

(Sneyd) Governor Peter Shumlin was among those who criticized state police when the leaders of a migrant farmworkers group were arrested during a routine traffic stop.

The farmworkers weren't involved in the traffic infraction. But they couldn't provide immigration documentation when a trooper asked, so they were taken into custody.

Shumlin wasn't the only critic. Natalia Fajardo of the Vermont Migrant Farmworkers Solidarity Project says that otherwise law-abiding dairy workers were being unjustly targeted.

(Fajardo) "We released a video that shows multiple incidents in which interactions with police whether 911 hangup call or being at the airport or being a victim and being afraid to call the police demonstrates the fear that the community has of the police and in some instances have led to Border Patrol and deportation."

(Sneyd) There are as many as 1,500 immigrant workers on Vermont farms and many of them don't have immigration documents to prove whether they're in the country legally.

Under the revised state policy, state troopers generally will no longer ask for residency documents unless they have a direct relationship to a criminal investigation.

The new policy says: "And individual's presence in the United States without proper documentation or authority, standing alone, when that individual has not been previously removed, is not a criminal violation."

The policy also says that arresting illegal immigrants "is not a law enforcement priority for the Vermont State Police."

Natalia Fajardo of the farmworkers group describes the new policy as a strong one. But she worries about potential loopholes.

(Fajardo) "Even though we see this policy as a very big step forward, we do have some concerns that the policy has some exceptions to when police can ask about immigration status and engage in immigration enforcement."

(Sneyd) Most of the exceptions to the policy cover incidents near the Canadian border. It gives state police more leeway on immigration issues if they suspect someone of having just crossed the border illegally.

It also permits troopers to call their federal counterparts if it's necessary to protect another officer or the general public.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd



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