Beginning Jan. 1, police will have to release the names of individuals arrested, as well as the circumstances of the arrest.
According to a law passed this year, arrest reports will have to include basic information — including the identity of the individual, the identity of the arresting officer, a statement on why and how the arrest was made, the alleged crime and whether the arrest was due to a warrant.
The law does allow police departments to withhold the name of the officer or officers who made the arrest if it hinders an ongoing or undercover investigation.
The prime sponsor of House Bill 1535, Rep. Brandon Giuda, R-Chichester, said it was never his intent to have the law hinder an investigation.
Giuda, an attorney, said he has seen instances where a police officer's testimony differs from what is in the arrest report.
“The public record is important for all parties involved,” he said. “Without a written report, you cannot correct the record or prepare for it if you're the defense counsel.”
Giuda said he decided to sponsor the bill after learning the Concord Police Department significantly limited information it includes in arrest reports.
The change occurred after a city councilor's attorney said the amount of information released by the Concord police was detrimental to his client's right to a fair trial.
Giuda said in drafting the bill, he worked with attorney Bill Chapman, who represents several media outlets in New Hampshire.
He said information about what happened at the arrest scene and who was there observing is important to a defense attorney and the person accused of the crime. The information can be examined as evidence before a trial, he noted.
“This is very important because people's freedom is at stake,” Giuda said. “Any public official or police officer with the proper intent would want to include this information in the narrative. It protects both sides, like cameras in cruisers protect both sides.”
Salem Police Chief Paul Donovan, who is president of the NH Association of Chiefs of Police, said his organization did not take a stand on the bill.
“Most departments make that information available,” he said. “That information is normally what you get when we send a story over to the media, and there's nothing that should compromise someone from getting a fair trial.”
He did note some police departments may not be so forthcoming, but said that is more an issue of training or education because there is a public right to know.
“It won't change what we do here; we're already providing that information,” said Manchester Assistant Police Chief Gary Simmons. “I do think it's a good idea to put in place a uniform policy for all departments to follow, so everyone knows what is expected of them.”
“I agree with the language that's in there,” Londonderry Police Chief Bill Hart said. “I think if the information doesn't adversely affect an ongoing investigation, the more transparent the police department can be, for individuals who want to take an active role in their government, the better.”
Not all area police chiefs are as enthusiastic about the bill.
“There seems to be a lot of convoluted verbiage in there,” Goffstown Police Chief Patrick Sullivan said. “We're having our attorney look it over, to make sure we are in compliance.”