Use of force

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month has sparked a national discussion on race, policing and the use of force. Cities around the country are reviewing their use-of-force policies, and some have announced changes, such as banning chokeholds and other neck restraints.

Over the past few weeks, The Sentinel has asked 30 law enforcement agencies that work in southwestern New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont to disclose their policies on the use of force by officers. The policies that have been provided are posted below, as are the responses of the departments that withheld or redacted them. (Scroll down to read them.)

Police officers sometimes have to use force to make arrests, defend themselves or protect others. That can range from grabbing someone’s wrist to a fatal shooting, depending on the circumstances.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that an officer’s use of force must be “objectively reasonable” in light of the situation, and New Hampshire state law lays out some basic parameters for when force is justified. Departmental use-of-force policies build on those broad foundations, articulating more specific guidelines.

These policies can show whether a department has expressly banned or limited potentially risky tactics like neck restraints and shooting at moving vehicles. They may also indicate whether departments require officers to de-escalate situations when possible and whether they explicitly establish a duty to intervene when officers see colleagues using excessive force.

The Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit think tank, has recommended such steps as best practices, and they are among the immediate demands of groups advocating for police reform after Floyd's death. (A Minneapolis officer was seen kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, ultimately killing him.) 

Many of the local policies reviewed by The Sentinel include one or more of those provisions. Not all address neck restraints specifically, though local police officials say the technique is not used here

The police chiefs in Chesterfield and Keene said that in responding to The Sentinel's requests, they noticed their policies technically still allowed "chokeholds," even though they're not taught — what Keene Police Chief Steven Russo called “a hold-over from some previous time that we apparently kept missing in policy updates.” Both said they are updating the policies to change that.

As of June 29, 22 police departments had provided their use-of-force policies to The Sentinel, a couple of them redacted to varying degrees. Five had denied The Sentinel’s requests entirely, and a few requests remained pending.

City releases unredacted version of Keene police's use-of-force policy

The officials who denied The Sentinel's requests said the policies reveal law enforcement techniques and procedures, and their release could allow suspects to “adjust their behaviors.” Some also said that disclosing such information could create a safety risk for officers or members of the public.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a group convened by then-President Barack Obama, recommended in 2015 that use-of-force policies be “clear, concise, and openly available for public inspection.”

The police departments in many of the country’s largest cities post their full use-of-force policies online. Those and related policies typically describe specific techniques and weapons, and some, including Chicago, Phoenix and Philadelphia, detail the makes and calibers of the firearms their officers carry.

“Especially now, police departments should be eager to get these policies in the hands of the public, so citizens will know their police officers are acting reasonably,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a transparency advocacy group.

The Sentinel has requested the use-of-force policy from each of the following state, county and local law-enforcement agencies. The policies that have been provided are below.

Last updated June 29, 2020. This list will be updated as additional departments respond.

N.H. State Police

N.H. State Police released its policies on the use of deadly and nondeadly force, with some redactions. David Hilts, an attorney for the agency, said the redactions were justified to protect law enforcement techniques and public safety.

Vermont State Police

Vermont State Police provided a complete copy of its use-of-force policy, which it also posts on its website.

Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office

Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera initially released a policy with substantial redactions, but said he was in the process of reviewing departmental policies and would publicly release them when done. On Tuesday, he released his office's updated use-of-force policy, which is also available on the office's website.

Rivera said he is reviewing a separate policy covering weapons and expects to eventually release it as well.

Alstead Police Department

The Alstead Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Antrim Police Department

The Antrim Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Bellows Falls Police Department

The Bellows Falls Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Bennington Police Department

The Bennington Police Department released its policies for the use of deadly and non-deadly force.

Brattleboro Police Department

The Brattleboro Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Charlestown Police Department

The Charlestown Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Chesterfield Police Department

The Chesterfield Police Department released its full use-of-force policy after initially redacting it. Police Chief Duane Chickering said he is in the process of updating the policy and expects to finalize it in the coming weeks.

Dublin Police Department

Police Chief Timothy Suokko released his department's use-of-force policy in late June, publishing it on the town website, after initially denying The Sentinel's request for it.

Fitzwilliam Police Department

The Fitzwilliam Police Department denied The Sentinel's request for its use-of-force policy. Police Chief Leonard DiSalvo cited exemptions to the N.H. Right to Know Law that relate to law enforcement techniques and procedures and information that could create a risk of harm to someone if released.

Greenfield Police Department

The Greenfield Police Department denied The Sentinel’s request to view its use-of-force policy. Police Chief Brian Giammarino said the policy contains information about law enforcement techniques and procedures, which lawbreakers could use to adjust their behavior.

Hancock Police Department

The Hancock Police Department denied The Sentinel’s request to view its use-of-force policy. Police Chief Andrew Wood said the policy contains information about law enforcement techniques and procedures, which lawbreakers could use to adjust their behavior.

Harrisville Police Department

The Sentinel's request is pending.

Hinsdale Police Department

The Hinsdale Police Department released redacted versions of its policies on the use of force. "All of the redactions were limited to tactical application of the policy, which are used when responding to emergency functions," Police Chief Charles Rataj said in an email.

Though this version still authorizes chokeholds as a "defensive" technique, Rataj said he has since updated the policy to remove that language. "No Hinsdale officer is taught or authorized to use chokeholds or other pressure to the neck," he said by email.

Jaffrey Police Department

The Jaffrey Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Keene Police Department

Keene released its police department's full use-of-force policy Tuesday, after previously providing only a redacted version. The city said it decided to release the full policy because of the importance of fostering public trust in the police.

Langdon Police Department

The Sentinel's request is pending.

Marlborough Police Department

The Marlborough Police Department released its use-of-force policy, after initially denying The Sentinel's request.

Marlow Police Department

The Marlow Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Nelson Police Department

The Sentinel's request is pending.

Peterborough Police Department

The Peterborough Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Rindge Police Department

The Rindge Police Department denied The Sentinel's request to view its use-of-force policy. Police Chief Daniel Anair justified the denial on the grounds that it contains law enforcement techniques and procedures.

Roxbury Police Department

The Roxbury Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Stoddard Police Department

The Stoddard Police Department denied The Sentinel’s request to view its use-of-force policy. Deputy Police Chief Cameron Prior said the policy contains information about law enforcement techniques and procedures, which lawbreakers could use to adjust their behavior.

Swanzey Police Department

The Swanzey Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Troy Police Department

The Troy Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Walpole Police Department

The Walpole Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Winchester Police Department

The Winchester Police Department released its use-of-force policy.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS