Editor’s note: This letter is by Michael Hall, of East Arlington. He is the executive director of the Vermont Police Coalition.
In policing, a critical aspect of the job is the information that you have in order to make decisions. As I read the article a few days ago about the Vermont Supreme Court reversing a decision on a drug arrest made by the Bennington Police Department, I was reminded as to how important accurate information is. Inaccurate information can be as damaging if not more so.
In this case the police stopped a vehicle and subsequently sought a search warrant for the vehicle, which was granted by the court. As in many cases, the stop and the search were appealed before the court, only to be upheld. As part of our judicial process, the case eventually made its way to the Vermont Supreme Court, which overturned the case dismissing the evidence (drugs) that were found in the car.
This is how our judicial process works, and most of the time it works well. What’s disturbing about this case is that it appears that the Supreme Court took into consideration inaccurate information.
In handing down its decision, the court referred to a study that was produced by UVM Professor Stephanie Seguino labeled “Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont.” The accuracy of this widely distributed and referred to study has been called into question since its release by many, including myself.
Unfortunately, there has been little debate or pushback by Vermont law enforcement regarding this study, which has taken on a validity to which it is not warranted. The study often referred to by members of the Legislature and others has now infiltrated itself into our criminal justice system.
For our highest court to be utilizing inaccurate information in its decision-making should be concerning to everyone. There is no doubt that our judges are well intended, but as a police officer I know the information you base your decisions on are critical. The court makes their decision, based on what they have in front of them, in this case without knowing that the evidence for their decision is tainted. That’s not to say that mistakes don’t happen, because they do.
In the case of the Seguino – Brooks, study there is plenty of reason to give pause to its validity.
The Vermont Crime Research Group provides statistical data to police departments and governmental agencies to include the Vermont Legislature. They reviewed the Seguino study and found that it was “was seriously flawed and its conclusions do not stand up to academic rigor.”
It further states the following: The Seguino and Brooks study also uses inappropriate methodology for benchmarking.
Other experts have also found the study flawed.
We’ve all heard the clich “garbage in, garbage out.” In some cases, the results of bad data go unnoticed, in others it causes catastrophic results. Whenever bad or inaccurate information makes its way into the mindset of our highest court, we all have reason to be concerned. The fact is bad evidence results in bad decisions. The Vermont Supreme Court needs to recognize the fact that they in part based their decision on tainted evidence and should reconsider its ruling.
As a society, we need to get past our fear of being labeled a racist because we question something that involves a sensitive topic. We need to address the issues at hand based upon accurate information, facts and science.