By Guy Page
April 17, 2020 – More than 130 Vermonters have used the Vermont State Police “Executive Order Reporting Tool” (EORT) to inform police about other Vermonters’ alleged infractions of Gov. Scott’s executive orders for work, travel and social distancing, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said this week.
Vermont State Police provide the hyperlinked webform to local police and governments to post on websites and social media. The City of Winooski (“Vermont’s Opportunity City”) website features a link with the following explanation: “The Executive Order Reporting Tool is for the public to report violations of the Governor’s Executive Order. It is not meant to be used by law enforcement for reporting. Once an individual of the public makes a report through the portal the complaint is vetted and directed to the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigative follow up.”
The web form asks for the type of complaint: Non-Compliance Lodging Property, Non-Compliance On-line reservation suspension, Non-Compliance In-person business operation, or Non-Compliance Restaurant On-Premise Consumption of Food Or Drink. It then asks basic who, what, when and where questions, and collects the name, address and contact information of the informant. Significantly, a category to report gatherings of 10 people or more, appearing on the tool last week, has since been dropped.
EORT has been criticized on social media and in the press as a “snitchline.” In an April 9 editorial entitled “Kill the Ratline,” Caledonian-Record publisher Todd Smith called the online web form “Kafkaesque.”
“A system that sends armed police to someone’s property, based on a vague and anonymous complaint, seems neither educational nor innocuous,” Smith wrote. “Particularly when paired with Attorney General T.J. Donovan’s press conference last week in which he detailed the enormous civil fines, criminal charges, and imprisonment in his tool belt for Executive Order scofflaws.”
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling stresses that the goal of the portal isn’t enforcement, but education.
“The portal’s primary purpose is to flag where education is needed to help people understand the governor’s orders and comply with them,” he said in a statement received this week by Vermont Daily. “The portal is NOT widely publicized, and although there is a public link, it is designed for law enforcement agencies to provide an outlet for those people who already are making what are inevitable reports to a central mechanism. The law enforcement stance has been and continues to be education and voluntary compliance.”
If Schirling here is suggesting that EORT is a time-saver for local police, he’s probably right. Berlin police reported to Vermont Daily last week that they were inundated with calls from concerned residents alleging inadequate social distancing (for example, walkers holding hands on Berlin Pond roads) and food hoarding (shoppers buying multiple packages of meat).
“The state had received more than 130 complaints from the public,” Schirling continued. “Those complaints are then referred to local law enforcement agencies for follow-up as needed, with the focus, again, on helping people learn about the requirements of the order and seeking their voluntary cooperation (as outlined in this guidance from the Attorney General’s Office).”
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office said April 3 repeated non-compliance can lead to “a civil violation of up to $1,000 per violation per day and criminal violation of up to $500 fine and/or up to 6 months imprisonment.”