BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The state's attorney in Vermont's largest county says her office will not prosecute some cases where evidence was seized during traffic stops as a way to tackle racial disparities in those stops.
Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George announced Thursday that her office does not plan to pursue most charges that stem from “non-public safety” traffic stops, "to help alleviate implicit bias, help restore our community’s faith in local institutions, and improve safety within our communities.”
That means that if someone is pulled over for an expired inspection sticker or failing to signal a lane change and the officer finds reason to search the vehicle that could lead to evidence of another crime, the prosecutor's office may decide not to prosecute, WCAX-TV reported.
“Every single case is still going to come to our office and we will review it to determine whether or not there is a significant reason or justification to continue bringing the charge,” said George.
The policy change is driven by data that shows black indigenous people of color are pulled over and searched at a disproportionate rate in Vermont than other drivers, she said.
University of Vermont economics professor Stephanie Seguino, one of the authors of newly released data showing a 40% drop in traffic stops in Vermont in 2020, told MyNBC5 that George's decision “may contribute to reduce racial disparities in stops.”
But South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke said the policy is flawed and won't change how his officers do their job.
“I think it’s important for the public to understand it is still incumbent for law enforcement to do this work,” he told MyNBC5. “Impaired drivers are known to fail to signal a lane change, unsafe and uninsured vehicles operate on our highways everyday that aren’t inspected, stolen vehicles will often times bare registration plates that belong to other cars.”