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Hollis Police Chief raises concerns over anti-sanctuary city bill passed by NH Senate

A police officer smiles with arms crossed
Tara Tucker
Hollis Police Chief Joseph Hoebeke

After over 20 years in law enforcement, Hollis Police Chief Joseph Hoebeke is retiring. Hoebeke has been open about how police can improve their relationships with local communities.

He says an anti-sanctuary city bill passed by the state Senate on Thursday could open officers up to lawsuits and jeopardize trust in law enforcement.

He recently joined NHPR’s Rick Ganley on Morning Edition.

(Editor's note: This is interview was recorded on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.)


You became the Hollis Chief of Police in 2017. How have approaches to policing changed in Hollis over that time?

I think for Hollis, as a small community, people viewed us as a small town police department that really wasn't as progressive as maybe larger agencies are or were. And I think everything we do in Hollis really is predicated on community relationships and partnerships.

How do you go about cultivating that trust in the community, especially with people who may be skeptical?

I think it's just openness and transparency. You can accomplish so much over a cup of coffee. You really can. And that's one of the things I'm most proud of. We've opened up our police department even more so than ever before to the community, particularly in the wake of some of the national incidents that have occurred, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We had lots of calls about what are we doing to address these issues, do we prohibit chokeholds, and a lot of these initiatives that we saw nationwide.

And we'd already done those things because we're accredited and those are best practices from the accrediting body. And people just want to be informed. It's hard for them to understand exactly what we do, oftentimes. It's more than just stopping cars and arresting people.

NHPR reporter Gaby Lozada has reported on the stress that undocumented immigrants face in New Hampshire without access to driver's licenses. I know you've supported initiatives to allow undocumented people access to licenses here. Can you explain that position?

So there's a number of factors that go into this. And I'm one of a number of chiefs that have supported that. In my time we have found that undocumented persons — from our experience when we interact with them, say, on a traffic stop and they're unlicensed — they're trying to go to work or transport their families to different events and such. And they're very fearful of their interactions with the police because they're worried about getting arrested.

So our position – I worked with Chief Michael Carignan, who is the former police chief in Nashua, and a number of other chiefs on this issue – was why not have a system in place where we can make sure that undocumented persons here in this country, here in the state, are allowed to get licensed? It's a vetting process that makes sure that they meet the requirements that folks like you and I have to. They would have to pay a licensing fee, they'd have to get tested, they'd have to get insurance. And it makes sure that they're actually driving legally. It's a safety issue for our roadways.

And more importantly, I think it would minimize the fear that some of these men and women, these individuals, have when they have interactions with the police. We know that undocumented persons are more reluctant to report crimes because they're fearful of police action against them, because they're not documented. And that's a very real issue that we see and we face in communities across the state. I know it's probably an unpopular opinion to have, but that's okay. I think it's important to do the right thing.

The state Senate is revisiting a bill that would require local police officers to cooperate with federal immigration officials. How do you think that would affect the relationship between local law enforcement and the community if that bill were to be enacted?

I certainly have concerns. I don't know that this is a debate so much about sanctuary cities. I think our viewpoint and concern with the legislation is that the courts have ruled that immigration detainers are civil in nature. And my two big fears are that it will set our officers up for lawsuits. [I'm] very concerned about that. My job as a chief is to protect police officers, to make sure they're empowered to do their jobs without fear of being sued.

And the second part is the harm that is done to the relationships that we worked really hard to build in this state with communities of color. We've worked so hard and we've done so much good over the last six years — really, in my time of service as a police officer, 23 years — to build those relationships. So there is that level of trust. So people feel comfortable coming to us to report crimes against them or family members.

Those are the two things I see most. I realize it's a very contentious political issue, and I'm not a politician. My job as a public safety professional [is] to make sure that we can empower our people to provide the best services to the communities.

Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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