- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont House voted Friday to launch a top-to-bottom study of Vermont’s overlapping patchwork of police forces, as well as to pursue a new system under which officers could be decertified for unprofessional conduct.

Separately, the House voted to step up collection and dissemination of data designed to make sure police aren’t engaged in racial profiling in connection with roadside stops.

Vermont currently has a patchwork of law enforcement including the State Police, county sheriffs, city and town police departments, small towns that contract with the State Police or sheriffs for part-time coverage and patrols, and mostly rural towns that count on the State Police to show up in the rare event of a crime within their borders.

Added to those are specialized law-enforcement personnel working for the departments of Fish & Wildlife, Motor Vehicles and Liquor Control, as well as the Capitol Police, who patrol the Statehouse.

Lawmakers began with a 132-page bill calling for creation of a new Agency of Public Safety, but that was reduced in the House Government Operations Committee to a three-page bill calling for a 13-member panel made up mostly of the heads of various public safety agencies to study the issues.

“Is there a way of doing this that makes sense for Vermonters that can provide equal or better service than what we’re providing now at a reduced cost?” Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said in an interview Friday. “We need to have those conversations.”

The House also voted to support an amendment by Rep. Ronald Hubert, R-Milton, calling for the study to include whether the state Office of Professional Regulation should regulate police officers the way it does nurses, funeral directors and a wide range of other occupations.

The aim would be to “come up with a way to decertify officers who are no longer doing what we want them to do for the state of Vermont,” Hubert said.

Currently, police are “not really regulated by anybody other than their own departments,” said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police are certified when they graduate from the police academy; the ACLU has been pushing for a stronger disciplinary system that could decertify officers for misconduct.

The House on Friday also approved a “fair and impartial policing” bill aimed at stepping up the ease with which the public can analyze data on the race and gender of people whom police pull over and the outcomes of those stops.

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