Minus provision for data collection, Senate passes police transparency bill

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

Associated Press
Published: 4/1/2021 2:59:13 PM

The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at increasing police transparency but rejected provisions that would have required collecting racial data about those who are stopped, searched or arrested.

The bill implements some of the recommendations of the Commission on Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community and Transparency created by Gov. Chris Sununu last summer amid the national reckoning on racial justice sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“This week, the nation is revisiting the trauma as the man who killed George Floyd goes on trial for murder,” said Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat. “We have the opportunity today to listen to our fellow Granite Staters and act to make New Hampshire a fairer and more equitable state.”

Sununu endorsed all of the commission’s recommendations and has implemented many via executive order. But some required legislation like the bill passed by the Senate on Thursday. Among other things, the legislation creates a matching fund to pay for body cameras for town and city police departments and requires agreements between school districts and school resource officers to be made public. But a Senate committee removed language that would have required the addition of racial identification information to be added to driver’s licenses and would have required the collection of data on the race and ethnicity of those who interact with law enforcement.

Whitley and other Democrats argued that the data collection would help the state identify any systemic racism by police as a step toward eliminating it.

“If Black lives matter, we need to count Black lives,” said Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, who described the racism his adopted son experienced when he was as young as 5 years old. He called a vote against the data collection “a link in the shackles of silence.”

“We can’t know if we vote no,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican who drafted the amendment to remove police data collection, said police already collect racial data for arrests and that adding identifiers to licenses would create rather than address problems.

“If we were to be doing this five years ago, I think there would be an outcry that we were racially profiling. We don’t want to do that,” she said. “I see it as dividing us more than we already are by creating these categories by saying ‘this one’s this race,’ We don’t want to do that. That is not New Hampshire. That is not what we do here.”

The Republican-led Senate voted 14-10 along party lines against an amendment that would have restored the data collection provisions. The bill, which instead includes a study committee on the topic, then passed unanimously and was sent to the House.

“Data collection allows agencies to assess the existence of racial disparities and use any findings to acknowledge and respond to the issues appropriately. The LEACT commission discussed this issue at length and their recommendations recognized the need for more standardized, transparent record keeping,” Senate Judiciary Committee members Whitley and Jay Kahn, Keene Democrat, said in a statement after the vote. “While we are proud to have supported the remaining recommendations, we are disappointed that our Republican colleagues chose to disregard a portion of the critical work done by the LEACT Commission, which would have informed future policy work to enhance public safety.”  

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