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Bow conducts secret review of its police department after internal complaints about chief

  • Bow police Chief Margaret Lougee stands with gifts she has received from students during her role as a school resource officer in Bow's school district. Caitlin Andrews

  • Bow police Chief Margaret Lougee looks at a photo album full of notes students from the Bow school district wrote to her. Lougee was the district's school resource officer for 10 years. Caitlin Andrews

Monitor staff
Published: 12/21/2020 4:07:31 PM

The Bow Police Department has faced internal divisions for months over dissatisfaction with Police Chief Margaret Lougee, records show. 

In a July 13 “vote of no confidence” letter to the board of selectman, 10 officers within the department detailed a number of complaints against Lougee and ultimately requested that she be put on administrative leave. 

Concerns from members of the department included that Lougee had put together haphazard department policies and provided few trainings for officers; that she had overridden the ability of sergeants and lieutenants to issue written reprimands against other officers; and that she had not done enough to address the decline in staff. 

Officers also protested Lougee’s decision in March to reach out to the climate action group 350 NH for help in obtaining Tyvek plastic protective suits at the beginning of the pandemic. The 350 NH group had organized a protest in January against the Merrimack Station coal power plant in Bow, in which dozens were arrested.

The officers called Lougee’s later outreach to the climate group “embarrassing” to the police department, which had been dispatched to guard the power plant. 

Throughout the 10-page letter, officers complained that Lougee fell short at communicating and listening to feedback or concerns, and said that the behavior had led to a drop in morale in the department. 

“Members of this department have wanted nothing more than to see her succeed in her position,” the officers wrote. “All members of this department, regardless of rank, have made every attempt to help the Chief make this department successful. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, any attempt to help her was viewed as an attack on her ability to do her job rather than a way to move the department forward.”

Ten officers signed the letter. Their names were redacted in the version released to the Monitor. The department’s roster includes seven officers, two sergeants and two lieutenants. 

“Please accept these signatures as a majority VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in Chief Lougee’s leadership and ability to perform her job as Chief of Police for the Town of Bow Police Department,” the letter concludes. 

The letter was first made public in the Bow Times published by Chuck Douglas, a former Supreme Court justice and Bow resident. The Monitor obtained a redacted version of the letter after a right-to-know request to the town. 

Lougee, who was first appointed to the post in 2016, was not immediately available for comment Monday. 

The letter prompted the town to discreetly commission an outside review into the leadership of the police department, costing $9,187.

But that review, carried out by Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI) and completed in October, has been kept from the public. The town has rebuffed right-to-know requests for the material, arguing that town officials are not physically in possession of it because it was never formally handed over by the law firm that worked for MRI. 

All discussions about the outside review and the decision to spend the $9,187 on the study took place during non-public sessions of the Board of Selectmen. 

The town has released a letter sent from MRI to the town’s law firm, Donohue, Tucker and Ciandella, summarizing the findings of its own report. 

The report summary did not recommend disciplinary action against Lougee or other officers. At one point it praised Lougee for being “widely recognized for her ability to build coalitions in the community.”

But it did suggest that Lougee spend more time carrying out face-to-face interactions, rather than addressing officers via email, and that she carry out a restructuring of the policies around promotions, performance evaluations, and sharing duties with her second-in-command. 

The MRI review also produced broader conclusions for the department overall, including around the department’s use of force policies.

But the specific recommendations for the town's use of force policy were redacted in the version of the summary provided to the Monitor. The town did not cite a reason for the redactions.

The town is likely going to face additional pressure to release the full contents of its investigation. 

Writing about the MRI report in the Bow Times, Douglas reported that he had filed his own right-to-know request on behalf of that newspaper to obtain a full, unredacted copy but had been rejected.

A recent case in another New Hampshire town may provide a precedent to force the release of the Bow report in court, Douglas said. On Dec. 5, the Grafton County Superior Court held that the town of Canaan must release the results of an internal investigation into an officer's conduct while arresting a woman on the side of the road. 

That report, which was also conducted by MRI at a cost of $6,000 to the town, had been kept hidden for two years; it was forced to be released after a lawsuit filed by the Valley News and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.

In an interview, Douglas said he  had refiled his Right-to-Know request on Friday, this time specifically invoking the Superior Court decision in Canaan. 

The Canaan case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, ACLU New Hampshire Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette said Monday. 

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

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