By PAULA TRACY
and CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Eliminate the 200-hour part-time police officer training and establish new recruitment processes to address the critical need for diversity were among recommendations made to the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency on Tuesday.
Retired Bartlett Police Chief Janet Hadley Champlin, a veteran officer of over 30 years in New Hampshire who as a member of the Portsmouth Police Department investigated police misconduct, offered a number of suggestions among a 12-point list of recommendations to improve law enforcement accountability.
The commission is charged with making recommendations for change in state policy for police by July 31, a matter of 45 days since its creation.
Champlin’s list for change also includes the development of a state civilian review board, a statewide standard for police background checks that includes an assessment of bias and improving the database to track officers from department to department.
A copy of her request to testify and more detail on those recommendations can be found here http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Commission-Testimony-2020.pdf
Champlin said all police should receive the same amount of law enforcement training and that separate part-time officer training should end.
John Scippa, director of New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council and a member of the commission, said in the past the state has offered over 200 hours of training for part-time versus close to 600 hours of training for a full-time officer. Most of those part-time recruits are seasonal officers.
“I stand ready to take a deep dive into the part-time program,” Scippa assured, noting he is new to the job. “Because it will absolutely impact the way policing is done through this state, I think it is a very, very valid point the chief brings up,” he said, referring to Champlin’s recommendation.
Champlin also noted the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule or the “Laurie List” is a secret list that contains the names of officers in the state who have been disciplined for issues related to dishonesty. Officers on that list shouldn’t be involved in law enforcement, Champlin said.
“You can’t be half in. You are either a police officer with full arrest powers or you’re not,” she said. “It’s a disservice to…the profession.”
Officers who witness police misconduct and don’t report it are just as culpable, Champlin said.
She said there are healthier ways to support officers who experience trauma and that departments do a horrible job of it right now.
Champlin said there has to be more standardized training throughout the state and a better review of candidates for bias and mental health prior to training and certification, and throughout their careers.
Champlin was the first woman hired in a Connecticut police department as a young 22-year-old and she encountered a culture of racist and sexist officers. “I worked with officers who should have never been hired in the first place,” though noting, some others became mentors.
Bad cops can have a devastating effect on the community, she said.
Champlin said she was proud of the 22 years she spent at Portsmouth Police Department as both detective and captain.
In Bartlett, she became police chief after two long-time police chiefs who committed crimes and served jail terms.
She said corruption “absolutely destroys the trust of the community,” and it can be very hard and take a long time to restore it.
“No police academy, no matter how many training hours they teach, can fully prepare a police officer for what the job is really like,” she said, describing being spat in the face, punched and pushed, being called every profane name “all while maintaining calm and control.”
She talked about encountering child rapists, having to knock on the door of a home where a child had been killed, witnessing suicides, having death threats made from people who have the means to do it and getting to know children who are abused only to see them inevitably facing charges in adult court.
“Most officers will experience all of these things,” Champlin said.
That said, it is rewarding to have made a positive difference in people’s lives and many officers enjoy that and feel it is a “noble and honorable profession.”
She said we owe it to the next generation “to make things better.”
State Pot Policy
Matt Simon of Manchester, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project in New Hampshire https://www.mpp.org/states/new-hampshire/ said cannabis legalization is essential for improving police relations in the state with its communities.
He noted that in the so-called “live free or die state” applications of cannabis laws are racially disproportionate and used to justify searches and make arrests.
Simon said the police chiefs association has been making demands at the State House and said it is time for some other people to come forward with some demands.
“The war on drugs has been a war on people,” he said, and disproportionately waged on people of color.
Retired Nashua police officer Anthony Pivero also addressed the commission. He said the Nashua Police Department has more than 200 sworn officers and currently there are no Black officers.
“The current hiring system is who you know or who your buddy is,” Pivero said. He described a “nepotism system” for promotions from within.
And he said the Attorney General’s Office still has a police shooting that it has not ruled as justified or unjustified. That needs to change, he said.
Linda Wojas, the mother of Pam Smart, who is now serving life for being an an accomplice to murder, said she has been asking for an unredacted Laurie List for years and years, “well before it was embroiled in the court system.”
Wojas told Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, chair of the commission, that if he truly believes in transparency he would see the Laurie List should be public.
She also noted that she submitted written testimony to the commission on July 7 and it still is not listed as evidence on the commission’s website.
MacDonald thanked Wojas for “hanging in there,” to provide verbal testimony and noted that due to the volume of material she submitted, there has been a delay in posting on the website. He assured her that the material would be posted on Tuesday.
Steve Monier of Goffstown, a retired police chief in that community and a former U.S. Marshal, said it is “OK to be proud of what New Hampshire Law Enforcement has accomplished in several decades,” noting New Hampshire enjoys one of the nation’s lowest crime rates, has a unified police academy, and there is civilian control of local police within boards of selectmen or police commissions.
He urged the commission to be “positive and proactive.”
Monier said the first step in improving police accountability is sound hiring practices. Background checks are crucial and continuous and ongoing training is also key, he said.
He said the state should talk about racial and economic injustice at the local level and noted that the national media has done a poor job of painting the picture. Monier said all residents should do the job of keeping their communities safe, like the police.
Monier suggested amendments to the right-to-know law and that shine the light of day on bad police behavior.
With a deadline of July 31 to make a report, members of the commission talked about more meetings in the next two weeks and limiting the time of testimony.
Members suggested going forward, the public should be limited to five minutes of testimony and limiting questioning of the witnesses as well to three minutes. They also wanted to encourage people to provide written testimony.
MacDonald suggested a framework for a report and recommendations. He said it should be a straightforward statement on the state of police training and accountability as it exists, a summary of testimony the commission has heard and a third and final area of recommendations by the commission.
To that end, MacDonald said, he has asked a member of the Attorney General’s Office, Nicole Clay, to help develop that report.
Others suggested a request for an extension of time from the governor. The next meeting has not been scheduled but members need to file their availability information by noon on Wednesday. For more information on the commission visit