Police brutality is an abuse of power; it occurs when police officers use unreasonable or unnecessary force. Sometimes it happens to people who are not suspects (for example, at traffic stops and at peaceful protests). In every case of police brutality, more force is used than the situation warrants, and more aggressive approaches may be used than a situation warrants. In the past year, for example, news reports have shown rubber bullets fired at crowds and physical assault used after a suspect is in handcuffs.
Many say police violence is a result of law enforcement becoming militarized. Procedures and policies that were used by SWAT teams or in the military are now used in public interactions by police forces. Many reasons have been given for this militarization. Often poor policies (such as stop-and-frisk searches) and inherently racist biases are to blame. For more information about police violence, see this site.
According to the ACLU, because policing is a local or state responsibility, local or state changes are needed for police reform. This means that, when police officers have a unique right to confidentiality, the public’s Constitutional right to information relating to a court case is infringed upon. Until recently, New Hampshire maintained a secret list of police officers who had proven issues with credibility or honesty (such as lying under oath or manipulating evidence). It is called the “Laurie List” and included about 170 officer’s names as of 2018. The public was not allowed to see the Laurie List.
“Right to Know” Law
New Hampshire seems to recognize the need for reform. In May of 2020, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire took steps to add transparency to investigations of police misconduct. Essentially, the court overturned a 1993 Dover ruling that kept internal records about police misconduct confidential and unavailable to the public. With the 2020 ruling, citizens can access and view police-misconduct investigation records. The 2020 ruling adds transparency and accountability to the state and reinforces the state’s Right-to-Know Law, which states:
“Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose…is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussion and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.”
Cop Block Grassroots Group
Recognizing the effect of police brutality, New Hampshire’s Cop Block grassroots group is trying to shine a spotlight on police officers who abuse their power. Their motto is “Badges Don’t Grant Extra Rights” and their Cop Block website posts video images captured by the public of police brutality. The group’s intention is to identify abuses of police power. The website provides an opportunity for the citizens of New Hampshire to take part in reforming law enforcement.
Where to Turn
Though some progress has been made, New Hampshire still has room for improvement. If you have been a victim of police brutality, talk to a lawyer whose specialty is police brutality.