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Concord Police meet most LEACT recommendations but lack body cams and racial data

A police officer faces a group of people looking at police motorcycles.
Geoff Forester
/
Concord Monitor staff
Concord Police show off their equipment to residents at the National Night Out at Rollins Park on Tuesday.

The Concord Police Department has enacted several of the recommendations proposed by a state commission last year to encourage police transparency and accountability but officers do not wear body cameras or collect racial data on stops.

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Concord Public Safety Advisory Board members had requested Police Chief Brad Osgood review recommendations issued last year by the Law Enforcement Accountability Community and Transparency Commission, convened by Gov. Sununu to address law enforcement reform following last summer’s protests of racial injustice.

Although the board’s review found that Concord Police’s policies meet many of the commission’s standards, some Concord residents who asked the city to reduce the police budget last summer still believe the department receives too much money that would be better directed elsewhere in the community.

The LEACT commission recommended that individual law enforcement departments increase the amount of training for officers on implicit bias and de-escalation tactics, retain records of internal police investigations for a longer period of time, and work to recruit racially diverse officers – all things that are happening in Concord.

Some proposals became law or went into effect via executive order; others, like whether departments should use body cameras, were left up to local communities to decide.

While Concord Police meets or exceeds many of the recommendations, officers do not wear body cameras, and the department does not collect racial data for stops or citations that don’t lead to arrests.

Collecting racial data on stops is difficult because officers don’t always identify someone’s race if there is no arrest made. This year the state Senate removed part of a bill that would have included a person’s race on driver’s licenses.

“There’s going to be gaps, but we can try to put the data in accurately whenever possible,” Osgood said in an interview. “Ideally, it would be better if it was on the license. If that’s what the Legislature wants us to collect, then it’s easier if it’s self-reported to the DMV.”

The police department does report racial arrest data to the Department of Safety. In 2019, Concord Police reported 2,077 arrests. That year, 8.3% of those arrested were Black people and 2.4% were Hispanic. Concord’s population is about 3.5% Black and 3% Hispanic.

In the capital improvement budget approved in June, the city council set aside $790,000 for body-worn and in-car cameras to be spent between 2024 and 2031. Osgood estimates that a 5-year contract for implementing the technology would cost about $1.5 million in total, which would include a full-time employee to run the program and respond to requests for footage.

A year after George Floyd’s death

The City Council began its look at the police department’s policies in June 2020, after the council issued a statement condemning the death of George Floyd and pledged to host forums on racial justice, which have not yet occurred.

“Our community can be proud of our Police Department and their commitment to protect and serve the people of Concord. But we can always do better,” the statement said. “We will be undertaking a public review of our policing and use of force practices so that community members may feel confident in our approach.”

Last June, some Concord residents called for a decrease in police funding, and dozens contacted the city council to ask that the Concord police budget be lessened and money reallocated to social services.

Instead, the council voted last year to increase the police budget for fiscal year 2021 by nearly $1 million mainly to boost officers’ pay above their contractual raises. This June, the Council approved a budget that gave an additional $516,000 to the police department, bringing the total budget to $14.2 million. As police salaries increase, so does the amount the city has to pay into the state retirement system for officers’ pensions. About 30% of all taxes paid by Concord residents go to the police budget.

Rebecca Bamidele was one of the Concord residents who reached out to the city council last summer to ask for a decrease in police funding. As an African-American woman, the national conversation about police brutality hit home for her.

“It really was a very personal matter for me. Having friends and family and feeling that they could be the victim of any one of these crimes really just brought me to a place where I wanted to make a difference,” Bamidele said.

She still believes that the Concord Police budget is too large, and that she would like to see some of that money spent to advance access to affordable housing and healthcare, or other services to improve the lives of minorities and underserved communities.

South End resident Jess Nehme, who also asked the council to lower the police budget last year, maintains that the police department receives too much funding now.

“I know a lot of stories from my friends and my sister of being stopped for unnecessary reasons,” Nehme said. “They have more than enough time and resources that they’re over-policing people.”

Nehme believes that one problem is that police are responsible for addressing too many problems, ranging from traffic safety to homelessness to responding to mental health crises.

Two LEACT proposals addressed mental health and policing, with one requiring mental health professionals on tactical response teams and another advising that law enforcement partner with communities to provide resources for people with substance use disorders and mental illnesses.

Concord Police works with Riverbend Community Health, which has an emergency psychiatric care number that people can call directly. If police or other first responders believe someone they are dealing with requires mental health support, they call Riverbend, which sends their two-person mobile crisis team to help.

That team includes a master’s level mental health clinician and a peer support specialist, who is someone with personal experience dealing with a diagnosed mental health issue.

“We have a very good relationship with Concord Police,” Riverbend’s Director of Emergency Services Jennifer Mulyran said. “If they have someone who is in a mental crisis then they would definitely call us.”

The police and fire departments meet regularly with Riverbend to talk about any issues with responding to these types of calls.

“I think that they do a really good job of working with clients,” Mulyran said. “I genuinely think that they care about this community and the people in this community and try to do everything they can.”

Community policing

Concord Police have also adopted the definition of “community policing” from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, another LEACT recommendation for law enforcement agencies.

The association defines community policing as a philosophy aiming to achieve “more effective and efficient crime control, reduced fear of crime, improved quality of life, and improved police services and police legitimacy,” and requiring police accountability and public input in decisions. Osgood said the community policing definition is framed in the station conference room and plays an important role in evaluating officers’ job performance.

Last week, the department’s officers showed up for a community event at Rollins Park as part of National Night Out.

Board Chairwoman Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said she was glad to learn that many of the LEACT recommendations and proposals had been in place in Concord for years.

“It was nice to see the idea of community policing is foundational to this department,” Grady Sexton said.

At the city council’s final budget hearing in June, Grady Sexton said that in the public safety board’s review of police accountability and racial equality in Concord, it had so far found the police to be transparent and community-oriented. In the past year, the advisory board has also discussed the department’s use of force policy, which is now publicly available on the city website.

“What I believe we’ve found is that the Concord PD has operated under a community policing model long before community policing became the gold standard for police departments, and that our department has policies that are aligned with or exceed best practices,” she said at the budget hearing.

There are no more public safety board meetings currently scheduled. However, a subcommittee plans to review how Concord Police policies align with 2015 recommendations from President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Taskforce, a national set of policing standards.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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