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Vermont Attorney General Holds Forums To Address Unconscious Bias In Policing

Howard Weiss-Tisman
A working group that was formed to come up with recommendations on how police training could address implicit bias met in Bennington.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has put together a working group to look at how Vermonters have been affected by unconscious bias while dealing with the police.

The group was in Bennington Tuesday night for the last of three public hearings which were held to gather input from the public, as well as from local law enforcement officers.

"I want to make very clear that unconscious, implicit bias in policing is not something that is solely a law enforcement experience," Sorrell said at the beginning of the hearing. "Clearly prosecutors, judges and average citizens have biases and preferences that have an impact on decisions and how we live our daily lives. So this is not an issue of trying to pick on police, but it certainly is an important issue for police."

The group members include Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, and Chittenden County State Senator Tim Ashe, along with U.S. Attorney for Vermont Eric Miller, Karen Richards from the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Jay Diaz from the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Curtiss Reed from the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.

All of the members except Miller were at the meeting in Bennington Tuesday.

The working group also held hearings in Burlington and White River Junction.

Sorrell put the group together to make recommendations to the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, to improve the training of law enforcement officials.

The council establishes rules and policies for certification  and training of criminal justice personnel.

"A big chunk of what we're trying to do within this whole series is to look at how we can better give recommendations around looking at training of officers," Morris said. "We're not even necessarily looking at one municipality, but at Vermont as a whole."

Two recently published reports found racial disparities in policing in Burlington and within the Vermont State Police.

At the meeting last night members of the public also addressed issues around social class, and the treatment of people with mental illness.

Sorrell said he was hoping to have a series of recommendations ready for the next meeting of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, which is scheduled for Dec. 13 in Rutland.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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