THE EVENTS surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd were a flashpoint for our nation that triggered the dialogue in New Hampshire that led to the creation of the Law Enforcement Accountability Community Transparency or LEACT Commission.
A broad coalition of advocates, citizens, community leaders and law enforcement spent months reviewing the state’s rules, regulations, training, crime statistics and oversight of our police with an eye towards reform.
The LEACT members dove deeper into this work and found that this work required not just reforms, but reinforcement of sound protocols many of our cities and towns already follow. While the commission offered 48 specific recommendations to improve law enforcement in our state, there were many areas in which action was found not to be necessary.
What the commission found is that the relationship between police and public here is largely on solid ground. Recent polling indicated 85% of state residents feel their police departments were professional. In the Granite State, officers are viewed as guardians to protect citizens.
We hope that the 48 recommendations offered by LEACT provide lawmakers with a blueprint for implementing legislation where needed. However, it is concerning to see some of the ideas circulating in Concord, proposed legislation that would upset the balance we currently have with regard to oversight, transparency and regulation of law enforcement. When local law enforcement is seen as the enemy, our communities will struggle to maintain order.
Lawmakers and law enforcement should work together to achieve mutually accepted goals and truly serve the electorate. We have faith that lawmakers will make sound decisions reflective of the commission’s research and hard work.
Proposals such as elimination of qualified immunity and removal of local control of school resource officers at public schools fail to follow the pathway charted by the LEACT recommendations and create new challenges. It’s important to recognize that currently, if officers are found to have performed their job in a reckless or wanton manner while making discretionary decisions, they are not entitled to qualified or official immunity protections. LEACT made no recommendations addressing the balance of protections of officers who face deadly risks while making split-second decisions in the field and legal liability. If any changes to this law are made, the difficulties law enforcement currently faces as a profession to recruit and retain officers will be exacerbated.
LEACT chose to focus on improving training and preparation of officers with clearer oversight. It was made clear that officers respond to calls with limited information, dangerous unknowns, unfamiliar surroundings, and make split-second decisions under pressure. When these reactions or decisions are able to be analyzed, they are analyzed in a stress-free environment, from multiple camera angles, with none of the physical or emotional stress, and none of the fear officers face. We must balance these reviews from the constitutionally required perspective of the officer at the time, while giving officers the tools and training to make the best decisions possible. LEACT appropriately recommended additional training requirements to better prepare officers for these serious and difficult situations.
The overwhelming majority of officers follow the law, follow the policies, give everything they can to the communities in which they serve. The number of bad officers out of all officers, makes up a fraction of a percent of those who serve. So, we must avoid an approach that is primarily punitive in nature, but rather is supportive and transparent with clear consequences for bad actors. No good officer wants to work with a bad officer, not one.
If we get this wrong, if we create oversight built on assumptions of wrong-doing, then we risk losing good people. Our policies, protocols and reforms should not discourage them from signing up to perform this important work or cause longtime public servants to leave the profession. These reforms must ensure there are no barriers to removing bad officers. LEACT worked to strike that balance and we urge lawmakers to follow the blueprint the commission worked hard to create.
We represent different groups, but we speak with one voice. The Concord, Nashua, and Manchester Police Patrolmen’s Associations stand with the Bedford Police Officers Association, the Londonderry Police Association, the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police, N.H. Troopers Association and N.H. Police Association.
The legislative approach should be to remember we are all in this together. That is what guided LEACT and resulted in a united and positive outcome that will continue to put the best foot forward for law enforcement.