Purging policy proposed for Nashua police records; ACLU not a fanBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
July 20. 2018 11:52PM
NASHUA — The Nashua Patrolman’s Association is proposing in its new contract that the police chief have the discretion of purging certain documents in a police officer’s personnel file as early as three years after the incident, one of several changes that has the American Civil Liberties Union up in arms.
Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU of New Hampshire, described the proposed policy as “awful.”
“I think what this agreement does is treat law enforcement officers in a manner that is completely different than how regular citizens are treated, and that is really not how our system should work,” Bissonnette said Friday.
The city’s legal counsel, however, argues that the newly proposed contract between the Nashua Patrolman’s Association and the Nashua Police Commission amends the bargaining agreement to be in line with requirements from the Attorney General’s office concerning the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES), previously referred to as the Laurie List, which contains names of officers whose credibility has been called into question and whose testimony could be problematic if called to testify at a trial.
Under the newly proposed contract in Nashua, remedial training or counseling forms, as well as letters of warning included in an officer’s personnel record, may be purged after five years. But the police chief would have the discretion of purging the documents after three years. Similarly, a letter of suspension may be purged after seven years, with the chief having the ability to purge the letter after five years.
In all cases where the documents pertain to an officer having been placed on the EES, the documents will remain in the personnel file, according to the proposed contract, adding once a member is taken off the EES, the documents may be purged according to the timeframes mentioned above.
Under the existing police contract in Nashua, disciplinary items are purged after seven years, although the chief has the discretion of purging the documents after five years upon request.
The new contract, according to Bissonnette, provides officers who have a finding of wrongdoing, even if it is minor, to have that information struck from their personnel file.
“No other regular citizen in the public sector has that right,” he said, stressing that the documents are letters of suspensions or letters of warning that need to remain in the officer’s file.
“It is critical this information should remain because I think it really does damage accountability,” maintained Bissonnette.
On Friday, the ACLU and the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers provided a letter to the city’s corporation counsel, Steve Bolton, which was forwarded to the Nashua Board of Aldermen highlighting its concerns about the proposed purging provision recommended in the contract.
“We think this provision needs to be eliminated,” stressed Bissonnette.
Bolton disagreed, saying the ACLU is aiming at the wrong target since the Board of Aldermen only approves cost items included in bargaining agreements and has no authority over other issues such as the purging of documents in a personnel record.
These new provisions, according to Bolton, are a slight modification to the existing contract.
“We are trying to have this work in sync with the attorney general’s memo concerning exculpatory evidence,” said Bolton.
“As far as I am concerned, this brings us in compliance with the law, and that is what we were attempting to do.”
The proposed contract specifically states that in all cases where documents pertain to an officer having been placed on the EES, the documents will remain in the personnel file, Bolton explained, adding that was the primary goal to ensure that it was in line with the attorney general’s requirements.
While Bissonnette says he respects Bolton, he disagrees with that assessment.
“There is nothing in the (EES) memos that discuss actual purging of files themselves,” said Bissonnette. “There are good reasons why those incidents should remain in a personnel file.”
In addition, Bissonnette said many of the incidents could be unrelated to the EES, yet they could still potentially be purged within three years at the chief’s discretion if the proposal is adopted.
“We don’t see a basis for this, and in fact it gives police officers special privileges,” he contended.
Bolton said it might have been more appropriate for the ACLU to raise its concerns with the Nashua Police Commission before that board voted on the proposed contract, which is now set to be reviewed by the aldermanic budget committee on Monday, followed by a vote by the full BOA likely in August.
Chief Andrew Lavoie of the Nashua Police Department was unavailable for comment on Friday. Daniel Archambault, president of the Nashua Patrolman’s Association, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
James Tollner, chairman of the Nashua Police Commission, described union negotiations and the proposed bargaining agreement as a fluid process.
“I have to refrain from commenting right now because it is in process,” Tollner said on Friday when questioned about the purging policy.
The Nashua Patrolman’s Association — one of five police unions in the city — has 137 members. The new contract, which would run from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2022, seeks a 10 percent wage increase spread out over a four-year period.