Commission reviews police training, policies in N.H.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/27/2020 5:23:56 PM

Police agencies must accept responsibility for their culture of abuse and cover-up, said New Hampshire Public Defense attorney Julian Jefferson.

“There is a culture in law enforcement across this country and in this state that allows for some police officers to cross that line from being a professional that is protecting serving the public and turning into a bully,” he said.

The comments came during meetings Thursday and Friday for the state’s new Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency. The commission was established by Gov. Chris Sununu via executive order on June 16 in response to a national outcry for law enforcement accountability following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

During the meeting, law enforcement officials went over police training curriculum, procedures and policies and laid out their own plans for internal reform. Reception among commissioners was mixed, with many arguing police should take more direct action to combat racism and abuses of power in their ranks.

The commission will open up the meeting for public testimony Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council Director John Scippa opened the meeting with a breakdown of the State Police Academy’s recruit training curriculum.

Training at the academy spans 16 weeks, with 684 total hours of instruction. This falls just beneath the national average for police training programs, Scippa said, though some last much longer. Training at the Boston Police Academy, for example, takes about 900 hours and 29 weeks.

Of the approximately 680 hours New Hampshire recruits spend at the academy, only two are devoted to diversity training. By comparison, the academy sets aside six hours to teach recruits communications, de-escalation and listening techniques and over 60 hours for instruction on how to work with the mentally ill, Scippa said.

Significantly more time is devoted to educating recruits on use-of-force techniques: just over 100 hours, the large majority of which are used for hands-on practice. More time is spent on use-of-force training compared with other areas because the skills require instruction and repetition to use competently, he said.

“Teaching these skills is really teaching a physical skill, it’s almost like teaching somebody how to hit a golf ball or perform some other physical activity that they’ve never probably in their life done before,” Scippa said.

The academy does not teach recruits how to use choke holds, and does not advocate for their usage except in “deadly force-type scenarios,” he added.

Chief Charlie Dennis, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said newly graduated officers often complete another training program at the department level, typically lasting around 10-12 weeks.

The state requires police officers to complete 12 hours of training annually to stay certified – known as “in-service” training – though individual agencies often add to this amount, Dennis said.

At the meeting, police officials agreed the state should lengthen its training requirements, both for the police academy and for annual in-service training.

Scippa recommended police agencies look to nationally recognized organizations like the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a law enforcement research and policy group, for innovative training models.

He singled out Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC), a peer intervention model developed by the New Orleans Police Department, as a particularly promising program.

“This training is to empower police officers to prevent or intervene when they are witness to police misconduct,” he said.

The police academy should also devote more time to cultural competency education, he said, teaching it as an overarching theme of academy training instead of a two-hour time block, Scippa said.

“The way we teach it is very siloed,” he said.

James McKim, president of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP, cautioned against this approach, arguing that although more diversity training should be implemented, an absence of targeted instruction could dilute its effectiveness.

“To make that mindset shift happen, sometimes it takes specific emphasis on the issue,” McKim said.

For in-service officers, the Association of Chiefs of Police is considering additional requirements in the areas of implicit-explicit bias and cultural diversity, de-escalation and wellness and resilience training, Dennis said.

According to Scippa, the state will have to pick and choose which of these reforms to implement, however. The police are “under-resourced,” he said, and would not be able to move ahead with every recommendation the commission puts forward.

“We’re going to have to prioritize things,” he said.

Some on the commission argued law enforcement’s deep-seated culture of abuse means New Hampshire should take more immediate and sweeping action to show misconduct will not be tolerated.

Jefferson urged law enforcement to implement duty-to-intervene and duty-to-report-misconduct policies, and to ban police use of choke holds altogether. Without such policies, officers may yield to social pressure discouraging them from getting involved when they witness abuses of power by their peers, Jefferson said.

“Especially with junior police officers, they are not going to feel that they have the power to interfere with another officer,” Jefferson said. “I think the death of George Floyd is a perfect example of that.”

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