Burlington, VT – A far-left prosecutor in Vermont’s largest county has announced her office will no longer prosecute many cases involving evidence found during the course of traffic stops because continuing to do so unjustly impacts people of color.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George explained her office’s new policy in a press release on Jan. 7.
George said prosecutors will “presumptively decline” to pursue charges “stemming from evidence gathered during a ‘non-public safety stop,’” which are also referred to as “pretext” stops.
According to George, examples of “non-public safety stops” include displaying fake license plates, driving with a broken tail light, operating a vehicle with a suspended license, and stopping a vehicle “strictly to conduct a warrant check,” among other situations.
The prosecutor said these types of stops disproportionately target people of color.
In addition to not pursuing most “non-public safety violations,” George said her office also plans to “apply a heightened scrutiny” to traffic stops as a whole to make sure police are not abusing “public safety stops.”
George defined “public safety stops” as those that involve a traffic violation that puts other people in danger.
“In traffic stops for public safety infractions, such as DUI, law enforcement officers appear to have very little racial bias in who they arrest,” George wrote. “However, when performing discretionary non-public safety stops, law enforcement officers are far more likely to stop and search people of color.”
“The result is the perpetuation of racial bias in our criminal justice system,” she declared.
George then suggested that law enforcement is actually causing people to commit crimes by enforcing laws.
“Psychological research has shown that those who are being mistreated, or in this case over-policed, will eventually begin to view the system itself as deeply unfair,” she wrote. “Not only is the system viewed as unfair, but also there is evidence suggesting that experiencing over-policing and discrimination causes serious psychological and emotional harm, and can lead those experiencing this treatment to be more likely to engage in criminal behavior.”
George said her office “is making the discretionary choice” to not prosecute cases “with charges resulting from non-public safety stops” in order “to help alleviate implicit racial bias, help restore our community’s faith in local institutions, and improve safety within our community.”
She noted that her office may make exceptions to the policy, but that deputy attorneys will be required to “demonstrate that an exception is necessary to protect an identifiable member of the community” and must receive her permission before pursuing any criminal charges.
South Burlington Police Department Chief Shawn Burke said George’s new policy is flawed and will potentially shield dangerous criminals from being intercepted, WPTZ reported.
“I think it’s important for the public to understand it is still incumbent for law enforcement to do this work,” Chief Burke said. “Impaired drivers are known to fail to signal a lane change, unsafe and uninsured vehicles operate on our highways every day that aren’t inspected, stolen vehicles will often times bare registration plates that belong to other cars.”
Hinesburg Police Department (HPD) Chief Anthony Cambridge said his officers will continue to conduct traffic stops just as they always have, regardless as to whether or not George’s office chooses to prosecute.
“A violation is a violation…We’re still going to make traffic stops and do the things that we do,” Chief Cambridge told VTDigger. “If we can’t bring something to the state’s attorney or the state’s attorney doesn’t want to proceed with a case as a result of a traffic stop, then I certainly stand behind that. That’s their prerogative.”
Vermont State Police commander Colonel Matthew Birmingham issued a directive to his force telling them to continue to enforce traffic statutes impartially regardless of George’s position on the issue, VTDigger reported.
“Traffic enforcement is one component of the larger strategy to achieve public safety on Vermont’s highways,” Col. Birmingham wrote. “All members (of the state police) are expected to participate in this mission.”
George said implementation of her newly-announced policy changes is “definitely something that’s been on my radar as a prosecutor for a long time,” WCAX reported.
“The less law enforcement has to be involved in these types of really low-level traffic infractions — not crimes, but traffic infractions — the better off they will be, and the better off we’ll all be,” the prosecutor added.