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Nashua aldermen say they have no authority over proposed purging clause in new police contract

Union Leader Correspondent

July 25. 2018 12:56AM

NASHUA — Despite concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union, aldermen say they have no authority over a clause in a proposed police contract that would allow certain documents to be purged from an officer’s personnel file.

This matter is between the negotiating body, meaning the Nashua Police Commission, and the Nashua Patrolman’s Association, said Alderman Richard Dowd.

Under the proposed provision, letters of warning, letters of suspension and remedial training or counseling forms may be purged from personnel files after a certain number of years as long as they are not associated with the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, previously referred to as the Laurie List, which contains names of officers who could be problematic if called to testify during trial. Items related to the EES will be preserved.

Alderman David Tencza agreed with Dowd, saying the purging provision in the proposed bargaining agreement has been negotiated, adding aldermen should not be legislating how those negotiations have been handled.

“The role of the Board of Aldermen being the legislative body of the city is to approve or disapprove of cost items,” stressed Attorney Steve Bolton, corporation counsel for the city.

Bolton described the purging provision in the proposed police contract as an ancillary matter, advising the aldermanic Budget Review Committee on Monday that it is not the role of aldermen to be concerned with provisions in the contract that are unrelated to monetary issues.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU of New Hampshire, claims that the proposed agreement gives police officers special privileges, which he said is not how the system should work.

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, however the police chief has 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.

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.

Deputy Chief Denis Linehan of the Nashua Police Department said that the proposal would permit, following the request of an officer and a review by the police chief, for forms highlighting issues such as multiple car accidents or repeated tardiness to be eliminated from personnel records.

However, Linehan stressed that reports from all internal affairs investigations will remain, explaining those items are stored separately from personnel files.

“That record will be retained forever,” Linehan said of every internal affairs investigation. “We hold our officers accountable, and these (internal affairs investigations) that are conducted are extremely thorough, and again, they are retained for life.”

Last week, the ACLU and the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers provided a letter to Bolton highlighting its concerns about the proposed purging provision recommended in the contract.

“There is always a possibility that purged information could be relevant in a future criminal case, even if that officer is not placed on the EES list,” wrote Bissonnette. “ … Allowing these personnel files to be forever purged creates too great a risk that a defendant may not obtain access to the information that he or she may need to defend themselves against an officer’s allegations in court.”

The aldermanic panel has recommended that the four-year police contract be approved by the full Board of Aldermen, which will consider the proposal next month.

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