Judiciary Committee Update: Police Reform – Use of Force Standards

House Judiciary continued taking testimony on S.119, a bill to establish a statewide use of force standard for law enforcement. 

While the Committee considered S.119 in June, it became clear that many people in communities affected by police use of force wanted to weigh in on that bill as well as on other police reform efforts. To address that, we took advantage of the time that the recess offered and, with the Government Operations Committee, hosted three public hearings on S.124 and S.119.  In coordinating those hearings, we worked with the Social Equity Caucus to ensure that we were reaching out to BIPOC and disability rights communities to encourage their involvement.  The Social Equity Caucus also conducted an online survey that, among other topics, asked for input on S.119.  There were over 1500 responses to the survey.

Based in part on that input, House Judiciary started the post-recess session with a proposed strike-all amendment that provides further guidance for law enforcement on the justified use of force and use of deadly force. To receive further input, we invited representatives of the BIPOC and disability rights communities to testify on the bill.  Based on oral and written testimony from seven individuals representing these communities, we made further revisions to the bill, primarily to address concerns related to the use of force in situations where the subject of that force is physically or mentally impaired.

This past week, the Committee also heard from representatives of the law enforcement community. They were generally not supportive of placing use of force standards into statute. Instead, they would prefer to have such standards set forth in a uniform state-wide policy to be developed through the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council.

We are now seeking compromises that either bring along law enforcement or at least speak to their concerns while maintaining the improvements that have been made to the bill based on BIPOC and disability rights communities’ input. We are seeking to set forth standards for the use of force and use of deadly force in statute while having the details of implementing those standards worked out in a uniform state-wide policy.