Police Brutality

Citizens Count Editor

Recent incidents such as the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have put a spotlight on police brutality in the United States.   

There is no legal definition of police brutality.  The term generally includes the excessive use of force by police, whether or not that force rises to the level of criminal assault.

Notable events in NH

There are two recent, highly publicized incidents of police brutality in New Hampshire.

Two Seabrook police officers were fired in 2014 after video surfaced of them shoving a suspect head-first into a wall and then pepper-spraying him while he lay on the ground.  One of the officers served 21 days in jail after pleading guilty to simple assault.

In 2016 a New Hampshire state trooper was filmed by a news helicopter beating a suspect in Nashua after a high-speed chase.  That trooper pled guilty, received a suspended jail sentence, and agreed to never again work in law enforcement.

Accountability for law enforcement

Local level
Local police departments in New Hampshire each have their own policy about when to use different levels of force.

Anyone can complain to local officials about the conduct of a law enforcement officer.  If that officer’s conduct violates department rules, he or she may be disciplined or fired.  If the officer committed a crime, such as assault, he or she may be prosecuted.

State level
Members of the public and local law enforcement can also submit complaints about police brutality to the state attorney general, who will investigate and prosecute officers for violating the law. 

According to an analysis by the Union Leader, 28 citizens filed complaints with the state attorney general about police misconduct from 2006 through 2016. 

The New Hampshire attorney general must also investigate every officer-involved shooting in the state. 

According to an analysis by the Concord Monitor, New Hampshire police shot 32 civilians from 2005 through 2016.  The attorney general found all but three shootings were justified.  

Federal level
The U.S. Department of Justice also has the power to prosecute law enforcement officers for misconduct that violates a person’s civil rights.  That includes physical assault, sexual misconduct, etc.

Policy changes in NH

Body cameras
Police departments around the United States, including departments in New Hampshire, are starting to use body cameras to record officers’ activity on the job.

Ideally body cameras provide clear evidence if an officer did or did not use excessive force.  Body cameras therefore discourage police brutality and false accusations of brutality.

Some people are concerned about the negative impact body cameras have on privacy for officers, victims, and bystanders.

New Hampshire law regulates the use of body cameras, for example requiring officers to turn off cameras during strip searches.  State law does not require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.

Military equipment

The federal government makes some military equipment, such as armored vehicles, available to local police departments. 

Opponents believe this equipment, which can even include grenade launchers and bayonets, enables police departments to react to situations with excessive force.  As a result, New Hampshire legislators have considered several bills that would limit the ability of police departments to acquire military equipment.  No such limits have become law.

Law enforcement argues that military equipment increases the safety of officers.  Heavy duty vehicles also allow local officers to help more during natural disasters.

Other policy debates

Civilian involvement
The American Civil Liberties Union recommends that police departments involve members of the public when investigating police misconduct and setting department policies. Ideally such civilian review boards eliminate any bias in investigations and improve transparency around police misconduct. 

Opponents argue civilians are not qualified to evaluate police policies and conduct.

New Hampshire state law does not require police departments to use civilian review boards, although towns and cities may choose to use them.

Mental health
According to an analysis by the Concord Monitor, about one-third of the civilians shot by New Hampshire officers between 2005 and 2016 had a possible mental illness.  Some advocates believe that police would have fewer violent encounters with people suffering from a mental illness if the state supported more mental health services.

Click here to learn more about funding for mental health in New Hampshire.

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PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

“Police brutality is an issue in New Hampshire that lawmakers must address.”

  • There are no civilian review boards at the local or state level in New Hampshire, meaning law enforcement are policing themselves, leaving too much room for bias and secrecy. Many civilian review boards are unpaid, so this meaningful reform has a minimal cost.
  • There is no official database of complaints about police misconduct in the United States or New Hampshire.  There is not even an official tracking system for fatal police shootings.  In New Hampshire the best data collection has been done by non-government organizations such as the Union Leader and Concord Monitor, instead of being reported by a government office. With no reliable statistics on police brutality, there is no way to know the scope of police misconduct in New Hampshire.  It is best to err on the side of caution and implement policies that protect the safety and civil rights of the public.
  • By making military equipment available to local police departments, the federal government has given local law enforcement more power than ever before.  To balance this power, New Hampshire needs to implement new checks on police use of force.

"Against" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

“Police brutality is not an issue in New Hampshire.”

  • The recent, highly publicized incidents of police brutality in New Hampshire resulted in swift criminal convictions.  This shows New Hampshire already has an effective response to police brutality.
  • According to data gathered by the Washington Post, New Hampshire had the 7th lowest rate of police shootings in the United States in 2016, with just two fatal shootings.  This shows New Hampshire police are some of the least violent in the nation.
  • There is no need for state government to take away local control and saddle towns with the cost of mandated reforms if municipalities already have the tools to combat police brutality.  There is no state law that prevents local police departments from implementing civilian review boards, body cameras, or other reforms aimed at decreasing police brutality.  

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the House

Requires the random testing of state police officers for steroid use.

Signed by Governor

Requires the Department of Justice to create a publicly accessible database to track property seized and forfeited after state and federal criminal convictions. The Senate amended the bill to instead require the attorney general to post an annual report on forfeiture.

Senate Nonconcurred with the House

Establishes a committee to study whether or not to codify in statute the exculpatory evidence schedule (EES), formerly known as the "Laurie list," and the related law enforcement protocols. The Laurie list is related to law enforcement misconduct. The House rewrote the bill to instead establish a procedure for handling exculpatory evidence in a police officer's personnel file.

Killed in the House

Limits the authority of conservation officers to enforce laws, make arrests, and conduct searches.

Killed in the House

Establishes a grant program for body cameras worn by police, funded by a fee for "prestige number vanity plates"—license plates with four or fewer digits.

Killed in the House

Requires all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, paid for by the state. This bill also raises a penalty assessment, from 24% to 28% of criminal, motor vehicle, and municipal ordinance fines.

Killed in the House

Prohibits the state and municipalities from acquiring military equipment that is not available in an open commercial market.

Senate Nonconcurred with the House

Requires a determination of whether there is exculpatory evidence in a police officer's file. The police officer would have an opportunity to challenge such a determination. The House and Senate could not agree on a final version of the bill.

Tabled in the House

Creates an Office of Ombudsman in the Department of State, which would investigate criminal complaints against government officers, employees, and contractors.

Killed in the House

Requires a law enforcement officer to wear a body camera if there is a substantiated complaint based on the officer's conduct. This bill increases penalty assessments to pay for body cameras.

Killed in the House

Requires the random testing of certain law enforcement officers for steroid use by the Police Standards and Training Council.

Signed by Governor

Originally written to increase the amount deducted from a person’s fine for each day of a person’s incarceration. The Senate amended the bill to instead regulate body cameras for law enforcement officers.

Interim Study

Requires law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Safety when they acquire equipment through a military surplus program operated by the federal government.

Tabled in the House

Prohibits state agencies and political subdivisions of the state from acquiring military-equipped vehicles or equipment.

Killed in the House

Regulates when law enforcement officers should wear body cameras and how to treat the recordings.

Killed in the House

Requires the Department of Safety to establish a database cataloging certain law enforcement activities, such as swat raids and drone use.

Died in Conference Committee

Requires a determination of whether there is exculpatory evidence in a police officer's file. The police officer would have an opportunity to challenge such a determination. This bill also requires the attorney general to develop procedures for a police officer to have his or her name removed from a list of police officers believed to have exculpatory evidence in their personnel files. This list is known as a "Laurie List."

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study the use of restraints when transporting a person subject to involuntary admission proceedings.

Killed in the House

Requires state law enforcement officers to wear a camera when interacting with the public. The bill establishes a police accountability and safety fund, which is funded with a surcharge on criminal and civil fines, to pay the costs for cameras and related expenses.

Killed in the Senate

Requires state police to wear body cameras when interacting with the public. The recordings are exempt from the right-to-know law. The House amended the bill to let each law enforcement agency decide whether or not to use body cameras; if body cameras are used, this bill sets out various regulations for the use of body cameras.

Signed by Governor

As introduced, this bill would establish a procedure for disclosure of exculpatory information in police personnel files (e.g., a finding that the police officer lied) when a police officer is serving as a witness or prosecutor in a criminal case. The bill was amended to instead establish a commission to study the use of police personnel files as they relate to the Laurie List.

Tabled in the House

Prohibits law enforcement from using drones without a warrant or an imminent threat.

Killed in the House

Requires the Police Standards and Training Council to revoke the certification of any police officer involved with false statements or falsifying evidence.

Killed in the House

Requires law enforcement agencies to report on the receipt of various equipment and grants from the federal government and on the deployment of tactical teams

Killed in the Senate

Allows citizens to record by audio or video a traffic stop by law enforcement officers.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study military vehicles and equipment and make recommendations about state and local purchase of military equipment. Before amendments, this bill would have prohibited law enforcement (except for the state guard) from acquiring military-equipped vehicles or equipment.

Killed in the House

Changes references to "law enforcement officer" to "peace officer" in all state laws.

Killed in the House

Requires a supervisory law enforcement officer to arrest a law enforcement officer under his or her supervision when the supervisor knows that the law enforcement officer has committed a criminal offense.

Is police brutality an issue in NH?

FOR
REPRESENTATIVES

AGAINST
REPRESENTATIVES

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Issue Status

Rep. Paul Berch has submitted a bill related to NH's "Laurie List" of police officers accused of misconduct. Though the details of that bill aren't yet available, Rep. Berch has previously stated his support for reforming rules around when the names on that list are released to the public. 

A lawsuit has also been filed by the ACLU and media organizations demanding the public release of the list under the state's right-to-know law. 

Read more about the 'Laurie List' debate

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