Efforts to gather race-related traffic stop data from Vermont law enforcement are taking more time than lawmakers envisioned.
More than three months after a legislatively-imposed deadline, most of the local police and sheriff’s departments haven’t provided the data.
Lawmakers learned earlier this year that many local police agencies had failed to meet a 2014 requirement to make traffic stop data publicly available.
They passed new legislation that required them to do so by Sept. 1, 2016.
The data is supposed to be submitted to a vendor chosen by the state’s Criminal Justice Training Council.
Some local police departments have made their traffic stop data available, even posting on their websites. But three and a half months after the deadline, the non-profit Crime Research Group in Montpelier, which is collecting the information under a state contract, says two-thirds of the state’s 70 police departments and sheriff’s offices have yet to submit theirs.
Karen Gennette, executive director of Crime Research Group, says it’s not clear why there’s been such a delay, although she doesn’t think it’s due to an unwillingness on the part of the agencies.
“I don’t think it’s a reluctance at all to send in the data,” she says. “Part of it is they don’t have the staff and some of the knowledge of how to pull that data from their database.”
Gennette says the local police departments have received instructions on how to provide the data, but may need more help doing it.
Richard Gauthier, executive director of the Criminal Justice Training Council, says there were initially some issues with some law enforcement agencies converting their data into a usable form and submitting it properly.
Gauthier says that may have delayed the process by a few weeks, but he can think of no reason why the data hasn’t been provided by now.
The heads of the state Sheriff’s Association and the Association of Police Chiefs couldn’t be reached for comment.
Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel, a past head of his association, said his town has provided the information. Merkel isn’t sure why other departments haven’t done so.
“It’s not a huge topic of conversation. It’s just something that people were asked to do,” he says.
State Police traffic stop data was made public earlier this year. That data pointed to racial disparities in state police practices and many feel those disparities may be even more pronounced at the local level.
Curtiss Reed, Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, says the traffic stop data is important both from the standpoint of accountability and as a tool police department can use to make improvements.
“Data provides a baseline from which you can start to have additional interventions around professional development, around training, around procedures, that measure to see whether or not that’s making a difference,” he says.
Reed says the fact that so many police departments haven’t yet submitted their information raises a question.
“For me that begs the question of whether or not they’re actually collecting data,” says Reed, who is also a member of the State Police Fair and Impartial Policing Committee.
Gennette, of the Crime Research Group, says her organization is working to publish the data it already has and will continue to post more as it comes in.
“We can certainly look at what we have and get that cleaned up and get that posted," she says. "I suspect that when we contact the other law enforcement agencies, we’ll get the data pretty soon. As the data comes in, we’ll get it posted."
Under a grant from the federal Bureau of Justice, Crime Research Group will also be analyzing the data it receives.