Portsmouth Adopts Major Police Reforms

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Portsmouth Police Chief Mark Newport

By Thomas P. Caldwell, InDepthNH.org

PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth Police Chief Mark Newport will now report every case in which an officer has been under investigation, as well as any suspensions or terminations resulting from that investigation under a set of reforms unanimously adopted by the Portsmouth Police Commission this week.

The policy goes beyond the latest recommendations from a special commission on police misconduct that has been meeting in Concord. That report to the state legislature would only require the reporting of the officer’s name and the agency employing the officer when there is a sustained finding of misconduct.

The package that the Portsmouth Police Commission approved, 3-0, on Tuesday was developed in conjunction with a group of residents interested in restoring public confidence in law enforcement officers in the wake of cases in which police have killed civilians, notably the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.

After the vote, Attorney Lisa Wolford, a member of the working group that developed the recommendations, said, “Public safety and government transparency and accountability are not antithetical goals and they’re certainly not inherently partisan issues. The success of our efforts over the course of the last year is a testament to the power of community engagement with its government and the progress we make when our government is responsive to its community.”

She added, “What we need to do now is ensure that these initiatives are implemented and funded.” 

The goals include reassessing the benefits of body-worn cameras, which were rejected in the past, looking into the costs, training, and maintenance required, as well as what cuts in services would be needed to implement them if the department is to remain at current funding levels.

In order to understand how much implementation of the goals will cost, another goal is to identify and publish the cost and percentage of resources it would take under each category of calls and patrol activities identified in the department’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, as well as statistics and costs relating to calls on mental health issues.

The department plans to work with local agencies to determine alternative call responses in cases of mental health problems and other categories of activity that do not require an armed response. Options include CAHOOTS-type responses, modeled on Eugene, Oregon’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets initiative that takes a community-based approach to public safety crises involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction.

The goals begin with basic efforts to collect and maintain data on officer encounters with civilians “in which the person is not at liberty to unilaterally decide to end the police encounter,” according to a PowerPoint presentation on the package. That data would be available to the public.

Another policy change would prohibit non-disclosure agreements during settlements with officers accused of misconduct. The city website would provide information on any settlement agreement against the police department, as well as contracts with Primex, a municipal- and school-funded company providing insurance coverage, risk management training services, contract reviews, and other employment-related matters.

The reforms also include improvements to the complaint process such as removing language that might discourage a person from filing a complaint.

Performance evaluations of officers under the new set of goals will include a review of case outcomes. Those outcomes also will be used in training and improvement efforts.

T.P. Caldwell is a writer, editor, photographer, and videographer who formed and serves as project manager of the Liberty Independent Media Project. Contact him at liberty18@me.com.

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