Gov. Phil Scott has signed legislation that requires state police to wear body cameras and prohibits police from using chokeholds and other similar restraint techniques.
Lawmakers sent the bill, S.219, to Scott’s desk before they adjourned in late June, as they raced to craft legislation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police in May.
“Exactly eight weeks ago today, this country watched the murder of George Floyd under the knee of an officer who was supposed to serve and protect all people,” the governor wrote in a letter to legislative leaders, announcing he had signed the legislation on Monday.
“Tragically, this is something we have seen far too many times. But this time Americans from all walks of life have come together to say ‘enough is enough.’ And while Vermont has committed to fair and impartial policing for years, there is clearly more work to be done.”
The legislation requires Vermont State Police officers to wear body cameras starting Aug. 1.
The law does not detail how and when body cameras must be used, but lawmakers plan to enact a policy when they hold a budget session in August.
It also prohibits police from using restraints that apply pressure to “the neck, throat, windpipe, or carotid artery that may prevent or hinder breathing, reduce intake of air, or impede the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain.”
Under the law, police who use those restraints that result in injury or death could be found guilty of a new crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, or a $50,000 fine.
While the governor enacted the legislation, he stressed he wants lawmakers to change the law this summer, after revisiting the provision establishing the new crime for police officers.
The new crime is the most controversial aspect of the legislation. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said it was unnecessary, since officers who misuse restraints can already be prosecuted under current law.
“Vermonters should understand neck restraints are not currently part of a law enforcement officer’s training and are prohibited as a matter of policy in Vermont,” the governor wrote.
S.219 enacts the crime on police restraints for only one year; it will be automatically repealed on July 1, 2021.
That deadline requires lawmakers to work with the attorney general, the defender general and others to revise the law, and the new offense, before that date.
Scott also said he wants legislators to revisit the body camera policy because the current requirements are “overly broad, requiring cameras to be worn by many personnel not providing street-level or uniformed emergency response.” That includes undercover officers, and officers working with victims of sex crimes, he said.
The governor said he hopes lawmakers will take up additional criminal justice reforms in the coming months, including modernization of policing training, measures to provide community oversight of police, and a statewide use-of-force policy.
Lawmakers already plan to pass another bill, S.119, this summer, establishing a statewide policy for police use of force — only in cases where police or others face “imminent threat of death or bodily injury.”
Scott said he is also considering executive orders to enact police reforms “to further expedite this timely and important work.”