By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Lawmakers heard two bills on Thursday that could impact law enforcement and civilians.
One bill looks at whether the state should set up a study committee to look at the idea of creating a citizens review board for police-involved shootings.
The other would ban the use of facial recognition technology in the state. It will go to a special subcommittee of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee for further review.
Many of those who came to the hearing on House Bill 1642 strongly supported banning the use of facial recognition technology, while an official for the industry said doing so would “take a critical law enforcement tool off the table,” in the Granite State.
Drake Jamali of the Security Industry Association said there are tremendous public safety benefits to facial recognition technology, including finding missing children.
“It helps prevent crime from happening,” Jamali said.
Questioned on its accuracy, Jamali said studies show that there is only .1 percent error or failure rate.
But Albert “Buzz” Scherr, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who has 39 years of experience in the area of privacy law, said the facial recognition technology is currently unreliable.
Scherr said he would be willing to help the subcommittee craft a narrow exception for its use but warned that there are privacy rights to be concerned about.
The bill would prohibit the state or municipalities from obtaining or using any face surveillance system and that such use would be inadmissible in court.
The other bill, HB 1257, which was heard by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, seeks to set up a study committee to look at how other states and municipalities deal with officer-involved shootings.
The bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, said there is currently no requirement in New Hampshire for the public to be involved in understanding what happened in an officer-involved shooting.
“A citizen review board is not a new idea by any means,” Bouldin said, noting places like Las Vegas, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. and New York City have such boards.
Bouldin said it has been almost 20 years since the New Hampshire Department of Justice reviewed its deadly force protocols and there has been an important development in that time. That is the cell phone, she said, referring to the shootings that have been captured in civilian videos.
She said the study committee might find that no such review board would be needed or that some other form of oversight would be good but she said it was important for the state to have the discussion to allow for better transparency in these tragic cases.
“It might provide a higher level of trust from the public and encourage more positive interactions,” she said.
“The study committee might decide that the current system is providing justice,” Bouldin said. “It’s important that a conversation is had.”
Mark Beaudoin, executive director of the New Hampshire State Troopers Association and a retired State Trooper, said he thinks the bill “is a solution looking for a problem.”
He said the state does have officer-involved shootings but they are rare “and I don’t think there are any current problems.”
Beaudoin explained that in such instances there are two investigations including an internal affairs matter and there are provisions that require the officer to tell everything that happens. In some cases, an officer may be terminated if he or she did not follow procedure.
He said a civilian review board would need to have extensive training in the statute, case law, firearms mechanics and simulations to get a better understanding of the stress that an officer would feel in those moments.
Paul Twomey, a long-time defense attorney who has handled more than 80 murder cases, said he would support the idea of such a study committee.
Twomey said the current system in New Hampshire where the Attorney General investigates is trying to do two incompatible things: instill confidence in the use of deadly force but also try to protect the state and its subdivisions from lawsuits.
He said they do a very good job of representing the state from being sued. The idea of a citizen’s committee could allow for more transparency, he said.
“I think there is room for some voices within the review system that are not concerned about who is going to win the lawsuit,” Twomey said.
The Attorney General’s Office is looking narrowly at the issues related to who pulled the trigger and when but not necessarily looking at how to learn from these tragedies so that they don’t get repeated, advocates said.
“We need a system that looks at the whole process,” Twomey said.
NAMI-NH Weighs In
Ken Norton, representing NAMI-NH, and an expert on the subject of suicide by cop, took a neutral position on the bill “because we think it is too narrowly focused. It is our belief there needs to be a more general discussion.”
NAMI-NH trains officers at the police academy including de-escalation techniques. He said the state does not do enough to help families of those who have been involved in such shootings.
Norton said InDepthNH.org did an article that reported 56 police-involved shootings occurred in New Hampshire in the past 30 years. Fourteen were nonfatal and 52 were determined to be justified and that almost half also involved a person with known mental illness.
“We are supportive of the need for some sort of constructive dialogue on the issue of officer-involved shootings and less lethal means to deal with that situation,” Norton said.
Jeanne Hruska, political director for the ACLU-NH, said her organization strongly supports the legislation, noting it would provide the public with more transparency and accountability.
But most importantly, Hruska said, a study committee is about having a conversation.
“We are not talking about plucking some random person off the sidewalk,” to serve on such a board, Hruska said. “We are looking at people with expertise. We are not trying to create a hostile environment. We are trying to create transparency.”
She said the public knows only what the Department of Justice releases and what information is left out of those officer-involved shooting reports could be important.
It would help engender a community sense of trust “that there was someone else in the room.”
With the advent of cell phone videos, “this is an incredibly timely conversation to be had. I have no idea what the answer is for New Hampshire but I certainly don’t want to be afraid to ask the question and have the conversation and I think it is important for the police to be involved in the conversation,” Hruska said.
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