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With ‘Laurie List’ now public, frustrations remain with how N.H. police are identified, disclosed

Photo of group of police on bicycles
Cori Princell
/
NHPR
(file photo)

On the surface, the release of the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, better known as the Laurie List, may look like a victory for police reform advocates.

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The names of 90 officers with possible credibility issues are now public, after being shielded for years. More names are on the way in March.

But its disclosure is also a reminder of what those advocates consider a flawed effort to increase transparency in policing.

“It is a completely broken system. It makes absolutely no sense,” Julian Jefferson, a public defender who served on a commission created in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, said.

One of his concerns, despite the disclosure, is the power left with police chiefs. They have near sole authority to include an officer’s name on the list. That process, and the management of the list by the state Attorney General’s office, remain shielded from public view.

“To me, [the list] is part of the whole police reform issue that we’ve been looking at from the beginning,” he said. “One big component of that is that the police should not be solely responsible for investigating themselves.”

To be clear, the Laurie List was not designed to punish police who are caught violating regulations or committing crimes. The list was created to ensure, as required by Supreme Court precedent, that government prosecutors turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants, including when the officer involved in their arrest or investigation has a red flag in their personnel file.

The document itself has just a one- or two-word explanation for the sustained conduct. Terms like falsifying evidence, excessive force or truthfulness fill the page.

But Hinsdale Police Chief Charles Rataj said a single word like “truthfulness” next to an officer’s name raises more questions than answers.

“My personal frustration with this system is that there are no definitions that go along with any of the terms that go into the system,” said Rataj. “There is a whole wide range of what truthfulness is, and how bad the incident was.”

County Attorneys and the Attorney General know how bad the misconduct was, the officer’s chief knows, since they are the one who flagged the behavior, but they’re often the only ones who know. The Laurie List’s release doesn’t solve this ambiguity.

Another problem some have with the List is consistency across the state.

“How truthfulness is interpreted from department to department can be subjective,” Dover Police Chief William Breault said. “I can’t speak to what other departments may or may not do. But I know here in Dover, we take truthfulness extremely seriously.”

For years, rank and file police officers opposed the release of the Laurie List on grounds that they weren’t always given a chance to appeal. Under a compromise passed by the legislature, all officers, whether still employed or fired for their conduct, were given one final opportunity to challenge their status on the document.

“I think officers have a sense of relief, because now they know that if I’m going to be placed on this list, I have to be notified in writing, and I’m given the opportunity to challenge that designation,” Captain Patrick Cheetham of the Londonderry Police said. “Those two things were absent for decades, and it just didn’t seem like a fair process.”

While the Laurie List, as an isolated document, may leave much to be desired, its release is still a watershed moment for police reform advocates.

Joseph Lascaze, smart justice manager with the ACLU of New Hampshire, one of the groups that sued for the release of the list, said the list provides evidence of misconduct within local policing – and could help build a shared reality between lawmakers and advocates.

“You have people who are sitting in decision making positions in the state saying, well, no, this doesn’t occur at all,” he said. “This is your proof right here that it does.”

Lascaze added that the significance of the list extends to currently incarcerated people who maintain their innocence, and who believe that an officer, now outed on the Laurie List, mishandled their case, but was never disclosed.

“This means everything for some people. Like their entire life, this publication of this list, is like a single point of hope that they cling to as they are literally sitting and rotting away in prison,” he said.

In the months and years to come, there’s a chance that some cases involving officers on the list may be reexamined, because this document is now public.

The list could also help bring momentum to another sought-after goal of police reformers: A statewide independent commission to review misconduct, and decide on punishment.

That’s an issue technically separate from the bureaucratic function of the Laurie List, but one the lists’s publication will likely shape.