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N.H. House committee takes up law enforcement accountability bills

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A New Hampshire House committee took up several pieces of legislation aimed at improving policing and law enforcement accountability in New Hampshire.

One bill would create a law enforcement review committee within the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council.

Another would require the Legislature to set up a study committee to review police incidents involving people affected by mental health issues.

The review committee, housed within the Police Standards and Training Council would be staffed by a lawyer and have investigatory powers. It would take complaints from the public and be notified by local police chiefs of any instances of officer misconduct to ensure incidents are handled appropriately.

Matthew Broadhead of the New Hampshire Department of Justice told lawmakers this bill has taken a while to develop.

“About two years of work went into this legislation with a diverse group of people,” he said.

The bill, which was a recommendation of Gov. Chis Sununu’s Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, would leave individual police chiefs in charge of investigating their officers' misconduct, but the committee would be empowered to review all investigations.

"The investigation would occur at a local level, and then that investigation, to provide independent review, would come to the misconduct committee, in a very objective way to make to sure it was done appropriately, that the facts were found,” said John Scippa, director of New Hampshire’s Police Training and Standards Council.

The bill to establish a committee to review police incidents involving citizens affected by mental health issues aims to reduce violent outcomes when police interact with people with mental illness. State data shows mental health issues are about 60 percent of police shootings in New Hampshire.

This committee’s aim would not be to evaluate the legality of police use of force in any given incident, which is the purview of the Attorney General’s office, but to consider the circumstances that preceded the shooting.

The bill was spurred by a 2021 incident in Claremont when a SWAT team shot and killed Jeffrey Ely after an armed standoff during which Ely repeatedly fired an assault weapon. Earlier that day Claremont police had spent 90 minutes with Ely during a mental health call.

“The purpose of this committee would not be for shaming and blaming, but it would be to look at how we reduce these incidents,” Ken Norton, former state director of NAMI-NH told lawmakers.

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