NH House takes up bill to create police misconduct review panel

Associated Press
Published: 1/14/2022 11:52:47 PM
Modified: 1/14/2022 11:51:57 PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire is moving forward with plans to create a statewide independent panel to receive complaints about police misconduct, though some don’t think it would be independent enough.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony Friday on a bill that would create a single entity to receive complaints alleging misconduct by law enforcement officers. The proposal would implement a key recommendation of the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu created in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was drafted after months of work by a study committee last fall.

“It provides oversight and accountability in investigations into police misconduct, it increases the transparency for confirmed violations and it promotes consistency and uniformity among police departments as to what actually constitutes misconduct,” said Senior Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead. “And it balances these important interests while maintaining the privacy interests of individual police officers who do have frivolous complaints levied against them.”

John Scippa, director of the state Police Standards and Training Council, said in the past, complaints often were handled at the local level with no consistency across the state. Under the proposal, the new committee would review all investigations and decide whether they were conducted properly and whether a hearing in front of the council is warranted, he said.

“It provides due process. It provides for an open and transparent process with regard to hearings and dispositions. It increases the public participation in the process,” he said. “It provides clearly defined expectations of what a valid investigation is, and it provides for a central repository of sustained findings of misconduct with public disclosure.”

The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a group representing trial lawyers largely supported the bill but suggested the makeup of the committee be adjusted so it doesn’t tilt in favor of law enforcement. As written, the bill calls for 10 of the 17 members to be connected to law enforcement.

“We want this council to be successful,” attorney Anthony Sculimbrene said. “Its appearance of fair and balanced approaches to problems is necessary, and as it stands now, there’s no representative on the panel for criminal defense lawyers or the ACLU.”

Scippa and others said the makeup of the panel is in keeping with similar committees that review complaints against other professionals, including lawyers, judges and physicians.

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