Part 2: Push back against new arrest data collection

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Part 2 of a three-part series on NH crime data.

Read Part 1 here.

New Hampshire may soon join the growing number of states that keep a comprehensive record of how police interact with their communities, but leaders of the state’s law enforcement community have cited several obstacles to collecting and reporting better data.

State arrest data and incarceration rates already show Black and Hispanic people face disparity from the criminal justice system. On average, each group is arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their relative populations.

Senate Bill 96, an omnibus bill, would implement a number of policy recommendations made by the state Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency last August. Portions of the bill would require law enforcement agencies to collect, analyze and publish race, ethnicity and gender data for all police stops, citations and arrests.

If approved, it would be an ambitious step toward greater police transparency in the Granite State. The data is expected to show how often people of different races and ethnicities come into contact with law enforcement, which could reveal racial bias in state policing.

The bill was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February, where testimony indicated strong bipartisan support.

But members of law enforcement called on lawmakers to reconsider the data collection requirement, arguing it would be too difficult and too costly for many police departments to meet.

If the bill becomes law as written, it’s unclear how data collection would be funded or regulated, or how it could be enforced.

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Gilford police chief Anthony Bean Burpee, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, outside his department on Friday, February 25, 2021.

Pushback from police

Hollis Chief of Police Joseph Hoebeke, who was part of the legislative workgroup that drafted the bill, said in the committee hearing that the records management system his department uses wouldn’t be able to collect or compile the data the bill requires automatically, so his officers would be left to do it by hand.

“That would take months to do that, and that would tie up considerable resources that we’re just not staffed appropriately to handle,” he said. He said he expected other small agencies to face the same issue.

Hoebeke offered to help tweak the language in the bill to make it more “workable” for agencies. He also said establishing a state-level system to gather and analyze the data could take some of the heavy lifting off the plates of local departments.

Mark Morrison, representing the New Hampshire Police Association, suggested leaving out ethnicity data to cut down on what agencies have to collect, as well as to sidestep the potentially complicated process of creating a standardized, definitive list of ethnic groups.

Morrison said this would also address concerns raised by the Department of Safety about fitting both race and ethnicity on drivers’ licenses, which police would use to collect the data.

New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council Director John Scippa, who sat on the LEACT commission, said in an interview that his agency does not keep track of what systems police departments use to organize and store their records, so exactly how the new bill would affect law enforcement agencies is unknown.

In addition, not all police departments can easily record all of the information the bill would require, said Anthony Bean Burpee, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. Some may have to update or replace their records management systems or other tools they use to capture and store policing data.

Depending on what funding is available, the cost could be cumbersome, Bean Burpee said in an interview.

“You talk about these small agencies in these towns that have limited budgets, then you get these requirements and there’s not money out there,” he said. “Who does that fall on? That’s the townspeople, that’s the taxes.”

In an Oct. 7 statement announcing his endorsement of the LEACT recommendations, Sununu said cost would “not be a barrier” to implementing any of the reforms. But for now, how the data’s collection and analysis would be funded is up in the air.

Gathering, analyzing data

The actual text of the bill is ambiguous about implementation.

It would require law enforcement agencies to collect demographic data “when possible” for arrests, citations and subject and motor vehicle stops. This includes race and gender, but also ethnicity and town of residence, which weren’t part of the original recommendation.

The provision instructs police to gather this information from driver’s licenses or other state IDs.

Ahni Malachi, Executive Commissioner of the NH Commission on Human Rights and a LEACT commissioner, told lawmakers it was important to collect comprehensive ethnicity data to allow individuals more control over how they identify themselves. Malachi said the information could be represented using a code or abbreviations to save space on IDs.

“Race is primarily a misnomer, and it’s our ethnicity that is more accurate to who we are as individuals, and can speak more specifically to who we are,” she said.

Police departments would have to gather and analyze data annually, the bill says. At minimum, they’d need to report numbers and percentages on how many people of each race and ethnicity were arrested, cited and subject to stops or warnings.

Each department would be required to report their data and analysis to the Police Standards and Training Council by Jan. 31 each year. The training council has 30 days to publish this information on its website “in a manner that is accessible.”

The bill doesn’t specify whether the training council would have to do its own analysis of the data.

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The New Hampshire Police Training facility at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.

N.H.’s criminal justice system

There is scant comprehensive data on New Hampshire’s criminal justice system, but what is available shows evidence of the same racial disparities that plague the rest of the country.

Black and Latino people in New Hampshire make up a disproportionately high percentage of New Hampshire’s state prisons. Crime statistics published by the New Hampshire Department of Safety show that they’re also arrested more often.

Black people make up 1.8 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but comprise 7 percent of the prison and jail population. Hispanic people make up 4 percent of the population, and hold another 7 percent of the prison and jail population, according to recent data. White people, on the other hand, make up 93 percent of the population, and only 84 percent of the prison and jail population.

But this information can’t speak to the more everyday ways police interact with their communities. This is why data on traffic stops and tickets is so important, said Jeanne Hruska, political director for the ACLU of New Hampshire.

“There’s concern that in New Hampshire, we’re seeing pretextual stops where people of color are stopped because of their race,” Hruska said. “And even if they’re not arrested, if there is a disproportionate number of people of color stopped, that’s concerning regardless of whether it results in an arrest or not.”

Looking to Vermont

To see what the new bill could look like in action, one does not have to look far: Vermont began collecting race, ethnicity and gender data for police motor vehicle stops in 2014.

Vermont has had its fair share of obstacles implementing the law, said Etan Nasreddin-Longo, co-director of Fair and Impartial Policing and Community Affairs for the Vermont State Police. Early on, the state had trouble gathering uniform data from agencies – some of it was coded or entered wrong.

“There was some rockiness with this,” he said. “But, you know, you work them out over time. And we’re still working them out.”

Etan Nasreddin-Longo

But what the law uncovered was well worth it, Nasreddin-Longo said. The data revealed clear disparities in how different racial and ethnic groups in Vermont are treated by police. Each year since adopting the law, people of color have consistently been stopped and ticketed at higher rates than their white counterparts.

While those gaps persist, the state is making progress, Nasreddin-Longo said. So far, the data has helped the state see where disparities are happening and improve implicit bias training.

The state is still working on ways to improve and expand data collection, he added. As New Hampshire considers how its own law might be implemented, Nasreddin-Longo said to remember setbacks are par for the course when rolling out ambitious reforms.

“Administrative difficulties notwithstanding, increasing transparency and trust with served communities is always worthwhile,” he said. “So don’t let the inconveniences as they may appear stand in your way of the greater goal.”

Other aspects of the bill

The LEACT commission convened in nearly 30 meetings over two-and-a-half months last summer to recommend changes to New Hampshire’s law enforcement. SB 96 addresses several of the commission’s other recommendations besides the demographic data requirement.

The bill also contains provisions that would establish a fund toward police body and dashboard cameras; allow individuals to report their race and ethnicity on licenses and other state photo IDs; require annual implicit bias and racial profiling training for judges; and exclude children under 13 years old from being prosecuted in juvenile court, with the exception of violent crime, and limit what offenses can lead children to be tried in Superior Court.

The bill was drafted by a legislative workgroup led by the attorney general’s office, which included members of the LEACT commission, representatives from ACLU-NH and members of law enforcement.

It’s sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, and about a dozen other legislators, including State Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, and House Democratic Leader Robert Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat. Senate Judiciary Committee members Becky Whitley of Concord and Jay Kahn of Keene, both Democrats are also co-sponsoring the bill.

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