CONCORD – Dash and body cams may be returning to the state police cruisers and chests after about a 20-year hiatus.
Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn said the state now has the funding and is moving forward with returning the recording devices to use. Quinn spoke at Thursday’s meeting of the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who created the new commission to help address public concerns about police accountability, voiced support for such technology last week. He said dash and body cameras benefit the police and those they interact with.
Meeting remotely by video, the commission heard about the plan from Quinn after defense attorney Donna Brown said the state police body cams “went away” 20 years ago after racial profiling issues were voiced.
Speaking on behalf of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Brown told the commission police racial bias exists in New Hampshire. That was echoed in public testimony by Michael Dane of Stratham, who said people of color are five times more likely to be incarcerated in the Granite State.
“We should be looking at why?” Dane said, adding if the commission is not uncomfortable exploring that question and others “you are doing it wrong.”
New Hampshire’s population of 1.3 million is 1.7% Black. But its prison population is almost 17% Black, the commission was told.
Sununu charged the commission to listen to the public, collect information and in 45 days, report on changes to improve law enforcement training and accountability in the state.
It comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis killed while in the custody of a white police officer.
Brown expressed concern that police use traffic stops as a sort of fishing expedition to find laws being broken, and that was not lawful and similar to “stop and frisk” techniques denounced around the country as tools of racial profiling.
Quinn, a member of the LEACT commission, told Brown state police do not train for pretextual stops. “That is something we do not want to see happening here,” he said. He welcomed more training in conscious and unconscious bias.
“Whatever we can do to increase training and support, Quinn said. “The culture here will be open-minded.”
Brown said police are supposed to be “the good guys” but they are causing pain by pulling people over because of the color of their skin.
Brown gave an example where she helped humanize her client to a police officer after her client handed him the phone. The officer said her client was calling him “an (expletive) racist.”
She suggested he stop yelling, understand it was not about him, that her client had been the victim of racial profiling in the past and that if he would speak softly to her client that would be beneficial. She said within a few minutes her client and the officer were joking by the side of the road.
That officer should have been trained to deal with that rather than having to have her intervene to de-escalate, Brown said.
She said she told the officer she did not think he was a racist but if she had been more candid she would have said many officers around the country are, whether they know it or not. Brown said it is time for an honest, likely painful discussion on systemic racism in police departments across the state and added criminal defense attorneys have had “a front-row seat” to racial bias.
She said dash and body cams are an an “easy fix” that would allow everyone to see what is going on out there.
Brown also said police academy training should include issues brought up in the case of the State v. Ernest Jones, which considers bias. “That is a new area of law that all police in the state will have to understand,” she said.
Quinn said “we want to work with you,” adding, “we are all trying to get to the same place.”
The commission tentatively will resume taking public testimony on law enforcement training July 9 at 11:30 a.m. for two hours. To connect with the meeting and get more information, visit www.governor.nh.gov/accountability.