Sununu issues executive order on police reforms, including body cameras for state police

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New Hampshire State Police Trooper Brandon Dean talks into his police radio while looking around Moody Park for clues following a bank robbery at the Claremont Savings Bank on Maple Avenue in Claremont in 2013. Photo/Elijah Nouvelage, Valley News

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Gov. Chris Sununu put into motion a set of 20 recommended changes to law enforcement in New Hampshire Wednesday – including, for the first time, a directive that New Hampshire State Police use body cameras. 

In an expansive executive order, Sununu directed agencies to strengthen police training to include anti-bias instruction, increase oversight and reporting requirements for individual police officer misconduct, and chart a path forward to pay for body cameras for State Police, something the Department of Safety has repeatedly resisted.

“These recommendations represent the most transformative changes New Hampshire has ever made to our law enforcement system,” Sununu said in a statement. “We are moving forward immediately to implement many of these recommendations, and I have confidence that the Department of Safety, the Department of Justice, the Police Standards and Training Council and all other involved state agencies will get it done.” 

Not all the recommendations are likely to be implemented right away. Sununu has required all relevant agencies to report back within 60 days with a timeline for implementation. But all the directives must be completed by July 1, 2021. 

The executive order represents a concrete step toward fulfilling the recommendations by the Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency Commission. That commission – formed by Sununu in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and amid widespread calls and demonstrations for reform – issued 48 recommendations in total in August.

Sununu endorsed all 48 recommendations at a September press conference, but about half of them require legislation to implement fully.

Wednesday’s executive order instructs the Attorney General’s office to create a new “Public Integrity Unit” to “promote a uniform approach to the investigation and prosecution of alleged criminal conduct by government officials, including law enforcement officials.” But that new unit would not include new state resources, meaning the Department of Justice would need to allocate attorneys and staff people from other areas to the unit. 

The order also moves toward a misconduct database for all officers in the state. The governor has directed the state Police Standards and Training Council to recommend how to create a statewide database of every police officer’s record, including all incidents of sustained findings of misconduct throughout their career.

That database would need to be funded in the next two-year budget, set to be negotiated by lawmakers in 2021. 

And the order seeks to tackle training for officers. It requires the council to expand the number of annual in-service training hours for all police officers to 24 hours a year, and include two hours each on implicit bias and cultural responsiveness training, ethics training, and de-escalation training.

Meanwhile, the council must come up with new guidelines on the use of force, duty to intervene, code of conduct, duty to report misconduct, prohibition of chokeholds, and procedures to guard against positional asphyxia – situations when someone in custody is unable to breathe due to law enforcement actions. 

The council must update its academy instruction or new officers in a similar way. 

Sununu’s order also requires that all statewide law enforcement agencies work on boosting the recruitment of officers of color from minority communities. Each state agency must submit a comprehensive plan within two months for how it plans to recruit and hire more officers of color. 

The order requires state law enforcement agencies to create training to improve relations with gender non-conforming communities, including by respecting pronoun choices used by people that officers interact with. And it mandates new training around officer mental health, including by talking about high levels of post-traumatic stress, depression and suicide among officers, and where to seek help. 

The move toward body cameras for State Police represents a major shift in policy. In recent years, State Police officials have argued to lawmakers and the governor that the costs are too great to support body cameras, and have instead suggested only cruiser-mounted cameras. 

But Sununu’s executive order forces that to change. It directs the State Police to find money they can immediately put towards body cameras within 60 days, and draw up recommendations for what more the agency may need in next year’s two-year budget to fully implement the directive. 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)


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