By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council is still trying to resolve outstanding issues found in last year’s independent audit, including the lack of full psychological screening of potential police officers.
Last year, the New Hampshire Office of Legislative Budget Assistant found more than a dozen problems with the organization. The Council is tasked with training and certifying all police officers in the state. John Scippa, the Council’s new executive director, released a report this week listing the progress made so far on the audit action items.
“We’re now really starting to focus on all the questions everyone has,” Scippa said in a phone interview.
In all, the audit found 16 deficiencies, from how recruits are screened, how certified officers who commit crimes are disciplined, to how the instruction for the academy is set. While some of the issues found in the audit have been resolved, some are still open, according to Scippa’s report.
Still open from last year’s audit is the fact that officer recruits are still not getting fully screened for psychological issues. Scippa reports that new funding from the state will soon be in place to cover the screenings, and policies will be set to make sure the Council can get reimbursed for the screening costs. Drug screening has already been put in place, according to Scippa.
The audit also found that the discipline process left gaps for officers who committed acts that should normally lead to discipline to escape consequences.
“For example, law enforcement agencies could suspend an officer for a long period of time for dishonesty or disrespecting the law but these specific instances of misconduct would never come before the PSTC unless the officer was discharged, involved in a criminal matter, or found to have possessed or used a controlled substance,” the audit states.
Scippa reports that this discipline gap is still not resolved. Scippa said the Council is pushing departments to notify it within 15 days of an officer’s arrest. The Council is also looking at more changes to the rules to close the gap.
“We are reviewing the administrative rules to consider amendments that may be appropriate to address the complaint and disciplinary process,” Scippa wrote.
The audit also found that the Council did not always follow public meeting laws when it entered into non-public meetings to deal with officer discipline.
“(T)he PSTC frequently conducted disciplinary hearings in non-public sessions under questionable and inconsistent authority which may require further consideration by the Legislature and more explicit guidance from the Department of Justice,” the audit states.
Scippa writes in his report that the Council has reviewed all non-public meeting minutes in question with staff from the New Hampshire Department of Justice and found they did not violate the law.
“The DOJ review found that none of the non-public sessions were entered contrary to law,” Scippa wrote.
The audit report came out in March of 2019. Scippa started work at the Council on March 16 of this year, as the state was shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That left Scippa and the staff at the Council to quickly clear out the dorms, disinfect the building, and move to remote learning for the Academy class.
“It took a lot of work to resume business,” Scippa said.
Scippa said the Council is now focused on dealing with the items in the audit that still need to be resolved. One of the issues the audit found was the fact some police departments do not adhere to Council policy. The Council is now conducting audits of all departments to make sure these departments are in compliance with the Council.
“If organizations are not in the constant process of reviewing and taking a really critical look at how they’re doing business and how they can do it better, those organizations are doing a disservice to the public,” Scippa said.
Scippa provided the following information:
Observation No.1: Require Psychological and Drug Screenings.
In Progress. Under RSA 106-L:6,IV drug screening is part of the overall Medical Exam which is mandated for entry into the academy. Psychological Screening, as required under RSA 106-L, VI and outlined in POL 301.07 will be receiving funding that will assist with 100% compliance. A review of our technical rules should follow to outline the funding reimbursement process upon bill passage.
Observation No. 2: Improve Application and Certification Forms.
In Progress. Review of the many application and certification forms is in progress. It should be noted that if we can move to an automated online system, this issue will become moot.
Observation No. 3: Ensure Audits are Periodically Conducted.
Completed. PSTC has adopted protocol defining circumstances under which council staff will audit law enforcement agencies for compliance with Council Administrative Rules, including audits whenever a new chief law enforcement officer has been appointed or elected; when the council, the director, or the director’s designee, receives information from a source deemed credible, outlining a potential violation of council rules. The pandemic temporarily suspended auditing of departments.
Observation No. 4: Improve Complaint and Disciplinary Process.
In Progress. Prior to my arrival, PSTC staff attended county police chief’s association meetings and reminded agency heads regarding the requirements in administrative rules to report the arrests of officers to the council within 15 days. In addition, PSTC provided training to members of the NH Law Enforcement Administrative Professionals regarding the PSTC administrative rules. We are reviewing the administrative rules to consider amendments that may be appropriate to address the complaint and disciplinary process.
Observation No. 5: Ensure Consistent Management of Instructors.
In Progress. A draft to amend our Instructor Certification and Approval protocol is introduced today for Council review.
Observation No. 6: Incorporate Job Task Analysis into Curriculum Development.
In progress. Prior to my arrival, Systems Design Group, the entity that conducted the last job task analysis for PSTC in 2000, provided an unofficial estimate for a basic JTA. Upon my arrival, I made arrangements with UNH Justiceworks who would conduct the JTA as part of a Graduate student capstone project at no cost. Justiceworks asked that the completion date be the beginning of 2021 to accommodate the school schedule. In light of recent events and not knowing what recommendations will come out of the Governor’s Commission on Police Accountability, this may be completed sooner.
Observation No. 7: Develop Performance Measurement System and Strategic Plan.
In Progress I held a preliminary meeting with all staff here at PSTC regarding SWOT analysis. That will be incorporated into a strategic plan that will carry our organization until the next Council planning session.
Observation No. 8 Improve Process Efficiency.
In Progress Prior to my arrival, PSTC submitted a capital improvement budget request to purchase an up-to-date database system that would be supported by DoIT, to include electronic submission and acceptance of required information and forms, with built-in controls to assure accuracy and completeness. That request was approved and funded at 150,000 dollars for this budget cycle. In the face of the pandemic, per Governor’s orders, all Capital Projects that did not have “a shovel in the ground” were suspended due to anticipated state budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic. In an effort to be prepared if the funding is authorized to be spent, the RFP will be complete by the end of this week and a number of vendors have provided us demonstrations of their software.
Observation No. 9: Comprehensive Internal Risk Management Committee.
Not yet addressed.
Observation No. 10: Improve Administrative Rules.
In Progress. Prior to my arrival, PSTC staff began reviewing our rules in consideration of the recommendations of this audit. This is on-going, see other observations.
Observation No. 11: Evaluate Efficiency of Internal Maintenance Crew.
Completed Prior to my arrival, Administrative Services, Bureau of Plant /Property Management, personnel have toured the PSTC facility to consider what shared services may be appropriate.
After consideration of several aspects of the maintenance function at PSTC, it was determined that overall, shared services with DAS would not provide operational advantages to PSTC, and PSTC should keep its internal maintenance crew.
Observation No. 12: Define Role in Reviewing County Corrections Academy Curriculum.
Completed. Prior to my arrival, The Association of Counties presented their current curriculum for to the Police Standards and Training Council for review during the June 25, 2019 meeting.
Observation No. 13: Ensure Proper Authority to Enter Non-Public Session.
Completed. The PST Council has reviewed and updated their Non-Public Session Worksheet which serves as a guide for members to assure proper authority is cited when entering into non-public sessions. Council staff and the DOJ have reviewed minutes of all non-public sessions entered into during the audit period to assure proper authority is cited. The DOJ review found that none of the non-public sessions were entered contrary to law.
Observation No. 14: Disclose Financial Interests and Ensure Quorum Requirements are Met.
Completed. Council members have been reminded of their obligation to file the disclosures in a timely manner. Each December, members will be provided with a financial disclosure form for the following year and reminded of the deadline. Members will not be allowed to vote on any council action unless they have filed the disclosure. Council staff will review the Secretary of State web site to verify that disclosures have been filed and will advise the Council Chair of any delinquent filing. As of this date all Council members and their designees have filed current disclosure forms. Also, the non-State employee member of the Corrections Advisory Committee has been informed of his obligation to file a Financial Disclosure Form and he has filed the form with the Secretary of State.
Observation No. 15: Formerly Adopt PSTC Recusal Practices.
Completed PSTC has consulted with the DOJ and has adapted a recusal protocol including a recusal guide available to members during Council meetings.
Observation No. 16: Ensure Corrections Advisory Committee Complies with Statute.
Completed. As of today’s date, identified committee nominees were offered for consideration and confirmed by the council. The CAC will be convened.