MANCHESTER — A key advocate of New Hampshire bail-reform efforts is faulting Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano for criticizing bail reform, complaining that Manchester police signed off on revisions that were passed into law earlier this year.
UNH Law professor Albert “Buzz” Scherr said the revisions addressed concerns that police raised about the year-old reform effort, which prevents the use of cash bail to keep poor people in jail before trial.
An ad-hoc commission that worked on the revisions included a Manchester police officer — Lt. Tim Patterson — who signed off on them, Scherr said.
“When you talk to Chief Capano, it’s worth asking what side of the mouth he’s talking out of,” Scherr said last week. Scherr is the author of the original bail reform legislation and one of its most passionate advocates.
This month, Capano has become vocally frustrated with bail reform.
He mentioned it during a Manchester Police Commission meeting two weeks ago when discussing the increase in homeless people in the city.
Some people are cited a dozen times for ordinance violations and misdemeanors, he said. They don’t go to court, and they remain free.
“There’s no accountability for them,” he said. Meanwhile, he said serious crimes in Manchester had dropped 9 percent so far this year, compared to the same period in 2018.
Then last week, Capano criticized bail reform in a news release that reported that two people had been released on bail after their arrest on drug charges at Veterans Park. People are getting released from custody faster than officers can complete their reports, Capano said in the statement.
“The bottom line is, the city of Manchester is suffering from the consequences of bail reform. We can’t just sit back and allow these issues to continue deteriorating our city,” Capano wrote in a statement. Police said that Manchester police Lt. Patterson was representing New Hampshire’s police chiefs association on the commission, not specifically Manchester police.
In an interview, state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said Manchester police did support the revisions passed earlier this year. Feltes oversaw the revision effort.
Feltes, who is running for governor, said both he and incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu supported bail reform. He blamed complaints associated with bail reform on Sununu’s budget veto, which blocked additional funding to support the homeless, blocked expanded addiction treatment services under the Doorway program, and blocked funding for programs such as a bail reform coordinator and a text messaging service to remind defendants of court hearings.
“The Doorway doesn’t have capacity on the back end,” Feltes said.
Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt stressed that Sununu is open to further revision.
“Let’s be clear: any judge is allowed to deny bail to any individual they believe to be a threat to public safety,” Vihstadt said.
Last year, Sununu signed bail reform, which curtailed the use of cash bail to keep defendants in jail before trial. It called for dangerousness hearings, and if prosecutors could show a defendant represented a danger to the community or to himself, he could be jailed without bail.
The original legislation had the backing of civil libertarians, trial lawyers, the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity and police chiefs.
In June, revisions went into effect that allow a judge to consider any relevant information to determine dangerousness, including a defendant’s substance abuse and homelessness. It also made it more difficult to force a victim to testify at the hearing.
Scherr said police want to blame bail reform for complicated issues associated with homelessness. And he said police are upset that they’ve lost the ability to confine a defendant in jail for months before trial.
“It was a wonderful age for police and prosecutors; they got what they wanted,” Scherr said about bail hearings pre-reform. “Now they’re not getting their way every time. They can’t just say stuff; they have to prove it.”
Tuftonboro Police Chief Andrew Shagoury, the immediate past president of the state Association of Chiefs of Police, said police chiefs are growing frustrated with the reform, despite the revisions.
Defendants released pretrial are not supposed to commit further crimes, but they do so, he said. And they don’t show up for trial. Shagoury said Ossipee District Court has nearly 800 bench warrants pending, which can be for several reasons, including not showing up for trial.
And jail can be beneficial. Shagoury said a father has asked him to keep his daughter jailed because he fears she will overdose and die. But she is free, despite stealing four cars and being twice revived with Narcan.
“There’s a change in the mindset. There’s a push nationwide for criminal justice reform. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s missing the mark,” Shagoury said.
The United States is often criticized for having one of the highest rates of incarceration of any country. The 2016 New Hampshire incarceration rate — 410 per 100,000 people — is about half the overall rate of 850 for the United States, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
In a statement, Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau said data needs to be collected to determine the effect of bail reform. She said Attorney General Gordon MacDonald recently received a grant to do so.
“Relying on anecdotes is challenging,” she wrote.