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The NH-Canada border is small, but police patrols are about to increase in a big way

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, joined by law enforcement and Gov. Chris Sununu, announcing a northern task force Oct. 19, 2023, which will expand patrols south of the border with Canada.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, joined by law enforcement and Gov. Chris Sununu, announcing a northern task force Oct. 19, 2023, which will expand patrols south of the border with Canada.

New Hampshire announced a tenfold increase in patrols along the Canadian border Thursday, with Republican leaders promising to use state and local law enforcement to close what they consider a potentially dangerous gap in public safety.

"There's national security implications to securing the northern border that are becoming more and more obvious every day," Gov. Chris Sununu said at a news conference. "In light of the terrorist attacks by Hamas aimed at innocent Israelis, global tensions and threats are now at an all-time high."

Along with Attorney General John Formella, Sununu outlined how the state will use $1.4 million included in the current state budget to create the Northern Border Alliance Task Force. Formella said the partnership between state, county and local law enforcement will increase border patrol hours from roughly 55 per month to a total of 10,000 hours in the next 18 months.

Statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that agents in the 295-mile sector that includes New Hampshire, Vermont and parts of upstate New York apprehended 5,970 illegal border crossers between Oct. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2023, up from 829 in the same period the year before. The total number apprehended along the entire northern border during that time, 170,565, is a small fraction of those apprehended along the U.S.-Mexican border during that same period, 2.1 million.

On Route 3 in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a sign informs motorists about the Canadian customs at the nearby border with Canada. Dan Tuohy photo.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
On Route 3 in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a sign informs motorists about the Canadian customs at the nearby border with Canada. Dan Tuohy photo.

New Hampshire borders Canada for less than 60 miles, and it's unclear how many illegal crossings happen there. Sununu said action is needed given that encounters with people on the terrorist watch list along the northern border as a whole have increased.

"We can't stand by, and we won't," Sununu said. "We're going to do whatever we can to make sure that we're providing the necessary resources and security for our citizens."

Last spring, when lawmakers were debating the budget provision, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit seeking release of state-specific data about border crossings. Frank Knaack, the organization's policy director, said Thursday the $1.4 million would be better invested in housing, broadband and substance use treatment than expanding police power and surveillance under the guise of a border crisis.

"Policies like this have been shown in study after study to further undermine police and community trust, which makes our communities less safe," he said. "Make no mistake: we'll be watching the actions of law enforcement, including how every dollar is spent, very closely."

Formella said he would provide as much transparency as possible without compromising investigations. The task force, which will include state police, forest rangers, Fish and Game officers and county and local law enforcement, will patrol within 25 miles of the border. Members will cooperate with federal officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

Gov. Chris Sununu and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella announcing a northern task force Oct. 19, 2023, which will expand patrols south of the border with Canada.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella announcing a northern task force Oct. 19, 2023, which will expand patrols south of the border with Canada.

Most of New Hampshire's border with Canada is in the town of Pittsburg, where Police Chief Rick Dube said there have been issues, though he declined to describe specific instances.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game. You got to be in the right spot at the right time. They could be in the woods, and it's so dense up there, they can be 5 feet away from you, 10 feet away from you and you can walk right by them," he said. "It's a struggle."

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