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Should NH add de-escalation and implicit bias training for police to state law?

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Earlier this year the New Hampshire Senate unanimously passed SB 114, a bill to require law enforcement officers to complete training on de-escalation, ethics, implicit bias, and cultural diversity. The bill mirrors action from the Police Standards and Training Council to voluntarily add this training. Now that SB 114 is in the House of Representatives, some legislators argue a state law is unnecessary.

A bill to address implicit bias

SB 114 was originally introduced to address discrimination at state parks, in particular. Among other things, the bill would have created a database of racist attacks and other civil rights violations in publicly-accessible areas. After debating the concept of “verbal violence” and other language in the bill, Republicans in the Senate moved to greatly narrow the scope of SB 114.

Instead of addressing discrimination at state parks and other public recreation areas, the amended version of SB 114 would add just two new requirements to state law. First, the bill would require the Police Standards and Training Council to provide education and training to law enforcement officers on de-escalation, ethics, implicit bias, and cultural diversity. All law enforcement officers in New Hampshire must complete the Council’s training requirements.

Second, SB 114 would require every law enforcement agency to develop a policy for their officers regarding de-escalation, ethics, implicit bias, cultural diversity, and how to handle incidents that may violate the state’s Civil Rights Act.

The training requirement in SB 114 mirrors a 2020 recommendation from the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency (LEACT). Gov. Sununu formed the LEACT Commission following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota.

The Police Standards and Training Council voluntarily moved to adopt the new training requirements in December. They propose annual training of at least two hours on implicit bias and cultural responsiveness, ethics, and de-escalation.

The final step before implementing the training is approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. That committee is expected to vote on the Council’s proposal later this year.

Sending an anti-racist message?

SB 114, with its narrower scope, passed the Senate unanimously.

At the time, Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) said, “This language, putting it into statute, would confirm that the Legislature believes it’s absolutely appropriate and necessary.”

In other words, SB 114 would send a message about the importance of police training on de-escalation, ethics, implicit bias, and cultural diversity. The bill would back up training changes already underway at the Police Standards and Training Council. It would also prevent the Council from ever removing this training – unless the Legislature rewrites state law.

State law leaves most law enforcement training requirements up to the Police Standards and Training Council. There are only two other specific training areas required by state law. First, RSA 106-L:7 requires training for “dealing with intoxicated and incapacitated persons.” Second, RSA 106-L:8 requires training on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Or passing a pointless law?

SB 114 crossed over to the House of Representatives in April, where it got a chilly reception from the Executive Departments and Administration Committee.

During the public hearing, some legislators questioned whether SB 114 might conflict with HB 544, a proposed ban on state training that includes so-called “divisive concepts.” Those concepts involve inherent racism, critical race theory, etc.

Committee members questioned whether SB 114 is necessary since the Police Standards and Training Council is already working to add the training requirements.

Other committee members argued that SB 114 should be restored to its original purpose, addressing discrimination at state parks.

“What they left us of this bill is not really worth considering,” said Rep. Carol McGuire (R-Epsom), chair of the committee.

What’s next for SB 114?

The House Executive Departments and Administration Committee ultimately voted 17-2 to recommend that the full House kill SB 114. The House will next meet in June.

If you have an opinion on SB 114, you can contact your state representatives and ask them to vote a certain way on SB 114. You can find who represents you on the Citizens Count website, here.

SB 114 is one of several 2021 bills aimed at addressing discrimination and policing. Many of those bills have been scaled back or killed this year. Find more bills on our topic page covering Criminal Justice Reform.

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