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After DOJ Warning, Vermont Officials Say Policing Policies Are In Line With Federal Law

A police car flashes its blue lights.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
Officials in Vermont say that their policing policies don't violate federal law. The Justice Department sent letters this week to the state of Vermont and Burlington saying that some of their policies could lead to a loss of federal grants.

The Justice Department sent letters to 29 jurisdictions Wednesday — including Vermont and the city of Burlington — saying that their "sanctuary policies" might violate federal law. Officials in Vermont say their policies comply with the law.
The DOJ named cities and states it says aren't following a law that promotes information sharing with immigration enforcement and said these jurisdictions could lose federal grants if they don't show compliance with the law.

In June, the Burlington City Council passed a policy that the police department would “not routinely ask any person about their immigration status.”

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said the police are not violating federal law and they will cooperate with the federal authorities on criminal matters.

“We elect to de-prioritize civil immigration enforcement because it works against the goals we have for public safety,” del Pozo said.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger agreed that Burlington was in compliance with federal law and that the city's policies keep residents safe.

“We don’t want people to hesitate to call the police because of the their immigration status,” Weinberger said. “We think federal law delegates to localities the decision about how to keep their communities safe.”

"We think federal law delegates to localities the decision about how to keep their communities safe." – Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger

Del Pozo said the department gets about $40,000 a year from the Byrne JAG grant, which the DOJ has threatened to withhold from jurisdictions they believe are violating federal law.

The funds from that grant usually go to Burlington’s community justice center, which offers things like victim support services and offender reentry programs, said del Pozo.

Del Pozo said city officials expected to get a letter like this from the Justice Department, so they made plans to secure funding for the community justice center.

“Knowing [the grants] are a larger percent of their budget than ours, just to give them stability, we’ve agreed to give them the money and then roll the dice on our own funding here in the police department,” del Pozo said. “The idea would be to shield these more vulnerable programs from the effects of losing the grant and allow us to make sense out of what remains in our own much larger budget.”

The Burlington Police Department has a budget between $16 and $18 million dollars, according to del Pozo.

Del Pozo said if the city gets the grant money this year it would go to technology upgrades, like getting new computers for police cruisers.

The DOJ also sent a letter to the state of Vermont, citing passages of the state’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy that potentially violate federal law.

Thomas Anderson, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, said that the state is in compliance with federal law and that he could make a robust argument to the DOJ explaining his reasoning.

According to a press release, the state's Department of Public Safety gets about $467,000 from the Byrne JAG grant each year and that money funds the Vermont Drug Task Force.

The task force investigates drug trafficking in Vermont and according to the release, the loss of the grant would have a “a significant and detrimental effect on the State of Vermont’s ability to investigate drug trafficking offenses”

According to WCAX, Vermont Governor Phil Scott said he doesn't think the state's Fair And Impartial Policing Policy violates federal law.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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