Legislature Considers Police Reform Following Commission Recommendations
There's been a lot of public debate over police reform in the last year. A statewide commission on police accountability and transparency made many recommendations for reform this past summer, and now some of those are under consideration this legislative session.
Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR's Mary McIntyre about where some of those proposals for reform stand.
Rick Ganley: First, can you quickly remind us of what this commission accomplished?
Mary McIntyre: Gov. Sununu put together this commission over the summer in response to protests across the state against police brutality and racial injustice here in New Hampshire. And the group didn't have the authority to make any actual changes to policing in New Hampshire, but it was tasked with making a wide variety of recommendations for reform. You know, those included changes to training requirements, making police records more transparent. One was to require body cameras for every police department in the state. Another was to create an independent agency to oversee and investigate any police misconduct. But that's not an exhaustive list. There are many, many more.
Rick Ganley: Well, let's start with police training, Mary. What kind of progress has been made with those recommendations?
Mary McIntyre: The majority of that work has fallen to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. They run the state police academy and oversee the training requirements for individual police departments. And the council actually just revamped its training programs on de-escalation and implicit bias. For that implicit bias training, it worked with community leaders across the state, including those from the NAACP, the ACLU and the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights. And the current academy class actually just took those newly improved trainings for the first time last month.
You know, as far as training requirements for individual departments, the legislature needs to approve the council's request to increase yearly training hours from eight to 24. That would also need to include de-escalation training and implicit bias training. And the council's director, John Scippa, he told me he's actually been encouraging police departments to try and complete those training requirements starting now, even if the legislature doesn't approve them until later in the year.
Rick Ganley: Well, now that you mentioned the legislature, what are some of the proposed bills relating to police reform this session?
Mary McIntyre: So there are two competing bills in the Senate on public disclosure of police records. Increasing transparency and accountability in policing has been a pretty big goal of people advocating for reform. One of those bills would make those records more transparent. The other would actually make them more difficult to access. There's also a House bill that would require all police departments to use body cams and another one that would require officers to collect demographic data. That would include race for every single traffic stop, even if it doesn't result in an arrest. And again, this isn't an exhaustive list of all the law enforcement bills in the legislature right now, but these reforms are really focused on accountability and making sure New Hampshire policing is more transparent.
Rick Ganley: So that's a lot. I mean, there's a lot of the table here, but some unknowns at the statehouse. With Republicans in control now of both the House and Senate, where do you see these efforts going?
Mary McIntyre: A lot of these proposals for reform in the legislature are coming from Democratic lawmakers. You know, it doesn't look like Republican leadership plans to prioritize police reform. For instance, the Senate Republican leadership released an action plan the other week and there were no reform plans listed. The only reference to criminal justice came when it said Republican lawmakers would, "ensure police departments have the resources they need to protect communities."
And then the governor, he did create the commission on police accountability and transparency over the summer, and he also did sign an executive order in support of their many recommendations back in September. But we've really heard little from Sununu since then on police reform. He's yet to bring it up as one of his priorities for this next term as governor.
Rick Ganley: Grassroots organizations, like Black Lives Matter, were really instrumental in getting police reform to the front of people's minds. What are local advocates saying about recent reform efforts? Do they feel that these proposals will have any real impact?
Mary McIntyre: Well, local chapters of Black Lives Matter are supporting some of these police reform bills, but they're not only focused on what the legislature or the governor is doing. I talked with Jordan Thompson. He's one of the founders of Black Lives Matter Nashua. And he says his chapter is supporting bills like one that would ban police use of rubber bullets and tear gas. But, you know, they're not putting all of their hope into the state to make real change.
Jordan Thompson: We realize that at the end of the day, the change that we want to see in our lives and we really want to achieve racial justice in New Hampshire, is not necessarily going to come through a Republican-controlled or even a Democrat-controlled state legislature.
Mary McIntyre: Jordan says, instead, Black Lives Matter Nashua is really focused on building change within their local community. They're continuing to build relationships with city leaders and the Nashua Police Department, and he says the group is looking forward to city budget talks around police spending later this year. And then Jordan says that they're also making efforts around education curriculum reform. They're working with the city's Board of Education and local schools. And the group is really focused on uplifting and empowering Black businesses and community leaders.