A recent report analyzing arrest data in New Hampshire brings to mind the well-known admonition of the importance of verification beyond mere trust, particularly as the Legislature grapples with enacting recommendations from the N.H. Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency (LEACT).
The news report, from the Granite State News Collaborative, unearthed crime data that the N.H. Department of Public Safety has made public, though buried deep in its website, and found that arrest statistics there indicate Black and Hispanic people were disproportionately arrested in 2019 by New Hampshire police when compared to their share of the state’s overall population. Specifically, the news report’s analysis indicates that although about 2 percent of the state’s population is Black and 4 percent Hispanic, Black people comprised 5.4 percent of those arrested in 2019, while 5.1 percent were Hispanic. The report also drilled into the data by city and found that in Keene, where the Black and Hispanic population make up 1.8 and 2.7 percent of the city’s residents, respectively, 3.5 percent or those arrested in 2019 were Black and 1.3 percent Hispanic.
These figures are important. But they paint an incomplete picture, as they relate only to actual arrests and, particularly at a city level such as Keene’s, can be easily skewed because of the relatively low number of arrests compared to overall interactions with the police. Drawing a conclusion that they necessarily indicate bias in policing, without expanded data on police interactions with the public, is certainly premature and might be unwarranted.
The incompleteness of the arrest data takes on importance as the state seeks to implement steps to assure a greater level of law enforcement accountability and transparency following last year’s protests both nationwide and across New Hampshire against systemic racism. The LEACT commission quickly assembled by Gov. Chris Sununu conducted hearings and ultimately presented a series of recommendation in the late summer. The governor endorsed all the recommendations and urged the Legislature to enact those that couldn’t be implemented by executive order or rulemaking.
One of the commission’s recommendations requiring legislation is to require all law enforcement agencies to collect, analyze and make public demographic data for all police stops, citations and arrests. This would expand the state’s and the public’s ability to monitor the effectiveness of other commission recommendations, to increase police standards and training, that are aimed at preventing implicit bias and racial prejudice in New Hampshire law enforcement. The expanded data collection recommendation is a sensible one, as shown by the shortcomings of the arrest statistics that are currently available.
It was heartening, then, that Senate Bill 96, an omnibus bill aiming to implement a number of LEACT commission recommendations, was introduced with a provision on data collection that would have required annual reporting of arrests, citations and field stops or warnings for each race or ethnicity. The provision, however, did not survive in committee. Instead, the Judiciary Committee this week amended the bill to remove both the data collection and reporting provision, and a companion requirement that nondriver identification cards optionally show holders’ race and ethnicity. Instead, the amended bill now proposes only a legislative committee be formed to study the inclusion of race and ethnicity information on state-issued identification cards. With the study report not due until Nov. 1, SB 96 will take no meaningful step this year toward implementing the expanded data collection called for by the LEACT commission and the governor.
The reasons for the delay are unclear. In February hearings on SB 96, some members of law enforcement argued that differences in staffing and data collection systems would make the data collection requirements too difficult and costly for many police departments to implement, the Granite State News Collaborative reported. Other testimony advocated a state-level system for data collection to ease the burden on local departments.
Whatever the reasons, delay would be disappointing. The state is moving ahead to address the LEACT commissions recommendations for increased implicit bias standards and training, and law enforcement and the public can not adequately assess their effectiveness unless baseline and ongoing racial and ethnic data on all police interactions with individuals becomes available. The state is putting its trust in enhanced training and standards to help keep implicit bias out of the criminal justice system, but it needs a means to verify the trust is well-placed.