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Bill Would Require Cameras for Troopers

Smile, state troopers: You might soon be on camera.

A pair of bills being introduced next year in the Legislature would increase the number of cameras filming the work of the New Hampshire State Police. One would set benchmarks for installing more dashboard cameras in police cruisers, while the other would require troopers to wear a camera while interacting with the public.

“It’s good police practice, and it gives everybody an accurate view of what actually happened, instead of an interpretation of what happened,” said Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Dalton Democrat and sponsor of the cameras-in-cruisers bill.

As for the wearable-cameras legislation, “Both parties find themselves using a little more judgment and a lot less hasty words or actions when the officer speaks the magic words ‘You are being audio and video recorded,’ ” wrote Rep. Kyle Tasker, a Nottingham Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor, in an email.

The state Department of Safety hasn’t taken a position on either proposal, which will be formally introduced in January when the Legislature kicks off the second year of its session.

“We don’t comment on bills until they have actually been introduced, and we have seen the final text,” wrote Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety, in an email.

Woodburn said about a third of state police vehicles have cameras or will have them by the end of the year. He said his bill wouldn’t require installation or provide any extra money, but would set a timeline to “make a policy statement” that cameras should be installed in every vehicle over the next few years.

“After talking to people in Safety and other folks, the thought was a modest approach to create some benchmarks – a little nudge to budget writers and the department to say, ‘We support this as a policy matter,’ ” Woodburn said.

As for the bill “requiring state police to wear a camera when interacting with the public,” it will be introduced by Tasker and is co-sponsored by several libertarian-leaning representatives.

“Each uniformed law enforcement officer of the division of state police shall, at all times when the officer is interacting with the public in his or her official capacity, wear an operating camera with a microphone for audio capture,” states an early draft of the bill.

Tasker wrote that he has sought input from the Department of Safety on his bill. There are benefits to both the officers and the people with whom they interact, he wrote, “such as evidence gathering, clearing officers of wrongdoing or disciplining/retraining them as needed, (enhancing) officer safety and (re-establishing) the integrity and professionalism of the troopers in the eyes of the public beyond all doubt.”

Tasker’s bill would take effect in mid-2016, he said, to allow a full bidding process and training on the new equipment.

State law already allows a law enforcement officer “to make an audio recording in conjunction with a video recording of a routine stop performed in the ordinary course of patrol duties,” so long as “the officer shall first give notification of such recording to the party to the communication.”

In 2012, a bill that would have required the state police to equip SWAT teams with “tactical cameras” was rejected by the House. The Senate in 2009 killed legislation that would have eliminated the requirement that police officers inform people they’re being recorded during traffic stops.

Several bills have been introduced in recent years to allow people to record police officers while on duty. In June 2012, such a bill passed the Senate, 17-6, but fell short in the House, 175-148.

However, then-Attorney General Michael Delaney had in March 2012 issued a memo stating that a 2011 ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made clear citizens can legally record on-duty officers in public places, so long as they don’t interfere with the officers’ work.