As we anguish over recent events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, let me be blunt: The prospect of violence against people of color by law enforcement looms ever present – even in Vermont. Now is not a time to anguish, but to act.
And the single most important constructive action we can take is to ensure that every sworn officer of the law understands the concept of negative implicit racial bias – the attitudes and stereotypes that unconsciously affect our understanding, actions, and decisions – and how to avoid acting upon those biases.
This would best be accomplished through the adoption of recommendations from an independent commission formed to review the curriculum and training methods of the Vermont Police Academy relative to The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force recommends meaningful solutions to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration through community-focused policing.
A state commission, whether created by gubernatorial executive order or by legislative mandate, must be comprised equally of law enforcement professionals and private citizens.
We need a transparent process whereby Vermonters – particularly those of us of color, mental health advocates, and the LGBTQ community – can provide input on how our police academy aligns with the recommendations of Obama’s task force.
A systematic review by this joint commission would ultimately lead to a better set of law enforcement training actions. A review driven by the “law enforcement knows what’s best for law enforcement” narrative would do little or nothing to strengthen community trust. Creating a joint commission and implementing its recommendations would constitute meaningful action.
Vermont State Police and the Agency for Public Safety have already shown courageous leadership by addressing negative implicit racial bias. The State Police continues to work with conscious intention on these issues. Capt. Ingrid Jonas is their the first director of Fair and Impartial Policing and Community Affairs, and five years of data on motor vehicle stops has recently been released. But there’s much more to do and we shouldn’t expect the state police to do the work alone.
Sheriff and local police departments must also work to make sure that no one in their ranks acts on negative implicit biases.
The threat to Vermonters of color is real, so all of us – law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve – must get real and take meaningful action, together.