By Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin
Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Wednesday to gradually release the names of police officers with alleged credibility issues on New Hampshire’s secret “Laurie List” – part of a bevy of law enforcement reform bills that are now law.
House Bill 471 will eventually make public the decades-long list of more than 270 officers whose superiors have flagged issues of abuse, unjustified force, and falsifying evidence. That list, also known as the exculpatory evidence schedule, has been kept by the Department of Justice since 2004 in order to screen out officers whose alleged transgressions could be a liability for prosecutors should the officers testify in court.
For decades, the department has released to the public a printed spreadsheet indicating the number of officers on the list, their departments, and the alleged transgression, which ranges from use of force to lying. But the department had redacted the names, leading to frustration from advocates and an eventual lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire to release the full list.
HB 471 will not immediately release those names to the public; officers will have an opportunity to file a lawsuit in superior court to challenge their placement on the list. As long as that appeal is pending, their name will not be released. Officers who were added to the list after April 30, 2018, will have three months to file the lawsuit. Those added before that date will have six months.
The signing of HB 471 fulfills a key recommendation from the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency (LEACT), a group of police representatives, state officials, and police reform advocates who met in 2020 to discuss police reform measures in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
The bill also includes a section opening up police disciplinary hearings to the public. Those disciplinary hearings, which are held by the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, will now be subject to public access by the state right-to-know law, except in situations involving the potential disclosure of confidential information.
HB 471 was part of a group of bills signed by Sununu Wednesday that related to the police.
Senate Bill 96 establishes a fund to help police departments install body cameras and storage technology; requires that schools publish the memorandum of understanding they sign with local police departments for school resource officers; and excludes children under 13 from being charged under the juvenile delinquency statutes unless they have committed a violent crime.
And House Bill 530 will assist police departments with background checks over potential new hires by allowing former employees of the job applicants to hand over to the police department sensitive information, such as performance evaluations and disciplinary actions. The bill will shield departments from lawsuits alleging a breach of confidentiality over those documents.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said the bills were key to some of the suggestions made by LEACT.
“I am very pleased that SB 96 is now law, and we can move forward with several of the recommendations from the LEACT Commission,” Bradley said in a statement. “These changes are important to criminal justice reform here in New Hampshire and have broad support.”
But while Democrats hailed some of the strides made, they criticized Republican colleagues for cutting out certain LEACT recommendations from the final bills. SB 96, for instance, does not include a requirement that police departments record the race and ethnicity of those they pull over – a metric that advocates say is crucial to measuring and combating implicit bias.
“It is unfortunate that Senate Republicans drastically narrowed the scope of this legislation, removing key elements such as data collection and mandatory judicial trainings regarding implicit bias and racial profiling, two key recommendations from the LEACT Commission,” said Democratic Sens. Becky Whitley, of Hopkinton, and Jay Kahn, of Keene, in a joint statement. “While we are pleased to see portions of the original bill enacted into law, we look forward to continuing our work to enact policies to ensure that New Hampshire is a safe and just place for all and that public safety is paramount.” ∎