People in New Hampshire and across the country are having renewed conversations about police reform and the role of law enforcement.
NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley recently sat down with Manchester's new police chief, Allen Aldenberg, to talk about how his department is responding in this moment.
Rick Ganley: There's been a lot of talk about police reform in New Hampshire this year, with protests this summer and the governor's commission on police accountability and transparency. Has this led to conversations about reform at the Manchester Police Department?
Allen Aldenberg: Obviously, we got a copy of the [Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency's] recommendations. I believe, there was 48 of them total. And shortly after becoming chief, I dove into it deeper and provided the mayor with, kind of, an analysis of where the [police department] was at, and found that we're in very good shape, to be honest with you, relative to those recommendations. For body cams: We've had them for a little over a year. That was a big one. Then the in-service training was another one.
And prior to that coming out, we had developed a plan here at the [police department] for calendar year  that we're going to have our in-service training for each of officers be at 40 hours, where I think the commission was recommending 24. So we're kind of already ahead of that game there. And we're going to cover all the topics that they had mentioned in there: bias training, de-escalation, cultural diversity training. So all that, we've already programmed that for .
Rick Ganley: Is there a follow up after that training? That happens one week a year for a particular officer or detective, but is there some kind of follow up with that?
Allen Aldenberg: No, there's really not a need. I mean, we hit the major topics. Throughout the year, we do additional firearms training, some additional scenario based training, but we do that now. So I think we're in pretty good shape relative to the training piece.
Rick Ganley: Black Lives Matter has been one of the leading organizations in the state around these conversations about police reform. Have you met with any representatives from Black Lives Matter Manchester?
Allen Aldenberg: The day before I was confirmed as the chief, I sat on a Zoom meeting with the Mayor's Multicultural Diversity Council that she formed, and a member of BLM was on that call. And we've interacted with other members of BLM, as well as members of the NAACP. I think we're fortunate in this part of the country that we don't see things that are going on in other parts of the country. But we realize that could change this afternoon, right? I mean, that could change in the next five minutes. And the relationships that we have and that we're trying to build on in the community, I think are going to posture us, you know, God forbid something happens in the city where you may see that type of unrest. And we don't want that. Who does? But we want to have those relationships in place so that if something happens, that we are all communicating the right way, and saying the right things and deal with the issue as it comes up, as opposed to trying to establish those relationships after something happens because that's just not going to work.
Rick Ganley: Your department released a statement this week saying the city would pay a fired police officer, Aaron Brown, significant back-pay. I know the department fired Brown for sending racist text messages with a government-owned cell phone. But the police union appealed, and an independent arbiter ruled twice that the city shouldn't have fired him and that it would have to provide back-pay. I know this is something that the department fought against. You know, you've doubled down on the decision to fire Brown. How much exactly is the city on the hook now to pay him?
Allen Aldenberg: At this point, the figure - and I've had a recent conversation with the with the city solicitor; they are still trying to figure out the final amount. The board of mayor and aldermen on Tuesday did approve to transfer a set amount of money back to the police budget to facilitate that payment when the time comes. The actual figure yet, if I was to give you a figure, it would probably be wrong at this point, because they're still working with his union attorney to make sure that the calculation is correct.
Rick Ganley: It is in the six figures, though?
Allen Aldenberg: That would be a fair assessment, yeah.
Rick Ganley: What's Aaron Brown's current status with the department?
Allen Aldenberg: He is not employed here.
Rick Ganley: Are you going to have to rehire him?
Allen Aldenberg: No. No, we have no intention of retiring, and I think what you find once all this settles out, that the agreement that is being worked on and being finalized will entail that he will never set foot in this building again.
Rick Ganley: If you've had an openly racist officer on the force, how do you go about earning the trust of people of color in the community?
Allen Aldenberg: I mean, that's fair. I mean, if I was a person of color and I read what was in the paper about Mr. Brown, I would be disgusted as well. We're not ignoring Mr. Brown's behavior. But in all fairness to the [police department] and Chief [Nick Willard] and Chief [Carlo Capano], I mean, it came to their attention, they dealt with it and they took action. How an arbitrator ruled, you know as well as I do that that's out of my hands. I don't like it.
But to gain the trust of the community back, we got to do exactly the things that I'm working to do and that Chief Capano did and build those relationships in the community, answer hard questions when asked. And if we make a mistake, we own it. I mean, we're not a perfect agency, but we do a lot of things well. But we do have to always work to build and maintain that trust. You just can't, you know, rest on your laurels when it comes to that.
Rick Ganley: Another recommendation brought forth by the governor's commission was for the state to create that independent statewide agency to investigate any complaints of misconduct against law enforcement. Right now, individual departments are responsible for handling those complaints against officers. Is a statewide agency something that you would support?
Allen Aldenberg: I think if somebody was to do a deep dive into how Manchester PD handles internal investigations, I think you find that we do the right thing. You know, we're very transparent. We're very open. We advise the complainant of the outcome, whether it is good, bad or indifferent. I'm confident in our process here at the [police department], but certainly if that comes out in legislation or a mandate from the attorney general's office, of course, we're going to abide by it, because I have to. But in particular the Manchester PD, I'm confident in our process when it comes to investigating those matters.
Rick Ganley: You'd rather handle it in-house?
Allen Aldenberg: Because I know we do it the right way and I know we do the right thing. But again, if I'm mandated by statute or through the AG's office, then of course, I'm going to comply.
Rick Ganley: What would you like to accomplish most as police chief moving forward? What are your main priorities?
Allen Aldenberg: Making sure that we're organized properly and that we have organizational excellence throughout the agency; that we're responsive to the community concerns through problem oriented policing; that we're prepared for any type of emergency that may take place and that our response is appropriate. Recruitment and retention is a big one for me. So that's a difficult one for any police department currently across the country. I don't get the numbers applying like I used to, but we also have to retain what we have. And the ultimate things that keep me up at night are the health and wellness of my my officers, and maintaining their mental wellness is my number one priority.