Loss of the UVM Police Force’s Authority off-Campus

The authority of UVM’s police force when not on UVM’s campus is now being questioned as a result of a recent District Court decision.

The court decision issued by Judge Edward Cashman ruled that the authority granted to UVM’s police is unconstitutional under Vermont’s State Constitution.

In 1991 UVM’s security force was granted the authority to enforce Vermont state law by the state legislature. This essentially gave the UVM police force authority equivalent to that of Vermont State Troopers.

Judge Cashman, issuing the ruling over a drunken driving case last month, cited the fact that UVM police have no authority to enforce Vermont state law as they are not overseen by an electable body of officials, as is required by Vermont’s constitution.

Vermont’s constitution states, “That the people of this state, by their legal representatives have the sole, exclusive and inherent right of governing and regulating the internal police of the same.”

The 25 members of the UVM Board of Trustees oversee UVM’s police force composed of 22 officers. UVM’s Board of Trustees does not meet the criteria outlined by the State Constitution in that the Governor or legislature appoints only 13 of the 25 members of the Board.

The UVM police force’s argument is that Judge Cashman’s decision creates an environment where officers from one town would not have authority in the next because they are not overseen by the latter’s representatives. Gary Margolis, UVM’s chief of police was quoted in The Times Argues, (November 9, 2005). “Taking his argument as written forward one can posit that a Bennington police officer has no legal authority in enforcing the laws of the state of Vermont while in Rutland because s/he isn’t answerable to the citizens of Rutland via their City Council or select board.” Further noting that “He’s (Judge Cashman) basically invalidated the section of (state law) that gives us all statewide arrest authority.”

Cashman’s ruling came as a surprise to many as in the past the courts have consistently ruled in favor of the authority of UVM’s police force.

In a recent WCAX interview, Colin McNeil, Chittenden County’s deputy prosecutor stated, “No, (we) did not expect it to go this way. We’ve had other opinions, other cases in the past where we’ve had a favorable ruling and did not expect that the judge would rule this way.”

The case is currently being appealed before the Vermont State Supreme Court.

This case has no bearing on the authority or operations of the UVM police on campus in maintaining the safety and security of all students, faculty, and staff. It should also be noted Chief Margolis commented that, “It (Cashman’s decision) does not have any functional impact on our department.”

UVM police will continue to operate as they have in the past and will continue to prosecute cases through the States Attorney’s office, though they will request that the cases not go before Judge Cashman until the Vermont State Supreme Court decides on the appeal filed concerning this case.