N.H. Police Reform Advocates Unhappy With Gutted Senate Bill
The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill last week based on recommendations from Gov. Sununu's commission on police accountability and transparency.
The governor created the so-called LEACT commission last summer in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolice Police.
But Senate members voted in favor of an amendment that eliminated key parts of the bill, and police reform advocates say the changes effectively gut the bill.
NHPR's Emily Quirk spoke with Joseph Lascaze who served on the LEACT commisison and is a justice organizer for the ACLU of New Hampshire.
Emily Quirk: So you were part of this LEACT commission that spent two months exploring how New Hampshire could improve its police practices. Can you remind us about the work this group accomplished?
Joseph Lascaze: Last summer, we all came together. It was a collective group of many diverse members, including law enforcement, from the mental health community and community advocates as well. We came together and we examined different ways that New Hampshire could improve our relationships with law enforcement and community as well as be transparent. This recommendation that we're talking about, in SB 96, on the collection of data on race and ethnicity, was a recommendation that came forward out of the commission after we heard numerous testimony from community members, as well as the recommendation from law enforcement that this was a provision that was needed.
Emily Quirk: So let's go back to that. One of the key recommendations that was stripped from the original bill was a requirement for police agencies to collect demographic data, including race. Instead, the bill would now establish a study group to look at data collection in New Hampshire. Can you tell us more about why the LEACT commission made this recommendation in the first place?
Joseph Lascaze: We heard community members talk about personal experiences. They became vulnerable for the public. They shared situations, whether through written testimony or by calling in. We knew that New Hampshire doesn't have data in a centralized area that is accurate for instances of law enforcement interacting with community members in an official capacity. So we studied this for a while, at great length, and came to the conclusion that we needed to have this information so that we would be able to look at the system and see where in the system there was a breakdown in the discrimination and targetization that we were hearing from community members was happening.
Emily Quirk: Do you think another study group looking specifically at data collection could still be helpful?
Joseph Lascaze: It makes no sense. That's exactly what the governor's commission was established to do. We did this for an extensive amount of time. Why would we need to spend more time when a situation is happening now? That's really what is important, and what we need to keep in mind. Right now, there is instances of this happening in New Hampshire. Granite State members are being affected. We heard this already. So why do we need to study this further? That doesn't make any sense. The only thing that does is it sends a message to the community members who have brought this concern forward that their issues and concerns are not valued as deeply as the others that have decided to take this out of the bill.
Emily Quirk: The bill does still include a requirement for all police agencies to use body and dash cameras. So are there still parts of the current bill that you're happy with?
Joseph Lascaze: Absolutely. There are still great provisions within this bill that are headed to the House. But with the gutting of the previous sections, we're going to still continue advocating and fighting to make sure that there's concern that this solution, which was, you know, a recommendation from the LEACT commission, goes forward.
Emily Quirk: The LEACT commission's final report came out last August. Do you feel like the state as a whole has made meaningful progress on police reform since then?
Joseph Lascaze: I think that there are places within the state that has made some changes. I know that the Police Standards and Training Council, they adopted some policy changes immediately to fall in line with the LEACT recommendations. Director [John] Scippa has made some great changes at Police Standards and Training Council. I also know that there's been some implicit bias training done within the Attorney General's office. But overall, I think that there was a lot of great recommendations that came out of the LEACT commission that this state had an opportunity to set themselves apart from the rest of the nation and say that we are taking this stand when it comes to criminal justice reform, when it comes to making sure that we are making an equitable place for everyone. And I don't know if we hit that mark.