Below is my testimony for two Senate bills regarding police accountability being heard later today.
Dear Judiciary Committee Members:
My name is Carla Gericke, former Republican state Senate candidate in District 20. I live in Manchester, NH, am an attorney, and serve on several nonprofit boards, including Right-to-Know NH, a nonpartisan, statewide citizens’ coalition that works to improve government transparency and accountability.
Today, I’m submitting my written testimony in my personal capacity, and ask that you OPPOSE SB39. I have also signed up to testify orally, but I ask that this email testimony be submitted into the permanent record for this bill.
I also ask that today’s Union Leader editorial, Assaulting your right to know, be formally submitted into the record.
For more than a decade now, I have been working on police accountability issues in New Hampshire, starting with my own arrest in 2010 for filming police officers during a routine traffic stop. After all charges were dropped against me, I filed and, four years later, won a landmark First Circuit, 1st Amendment court case affirming the right to film police officers in public (Gericke vs. Begin et al).
Thanks to my determination to create a binding legal precedent to ensure citizens can (and one may argue, should) record police officers in the execution of their public duties, more than 13 million people in the First Circuit can now legally record police officers. Indeed, the Court found that the right to film police officers was so clearly established, they can no longer invoke qualified immunity as a defense.
It is undeniable that recordings of police brutality and excessive force have highlighted a very serious problem in our country, and that we need more, not less, transparency and accountability.
Therefore, this proposed bill, SB39, which reduces transparency and codifies hiding ONLY police officers “personnel files, internal investigations, and pre-employment background investigations of any state and local law enforcement officer,” is an affront to police accountability activists everywhere, and is, frankly, an insult to all decent Granite Staters.
Why? Because it took TWENTY SEVEN YEARS to overturn the wrongly decided Fenniman vs. Union Leader decision that originally created an exception saying that government employees’ personnel files are exempt from RSA 91-A.
That’s twenty seven years of secrets, unaccountability, and actively, purposefully hiding abuses, leading to the distrust of law enforcement we see today.
Yet, here is Senator Carson, endorsed in the past by several law enforcement agencies, introducing a bill to again shield police officers’ malfeasance from the public it purports to serve.
This anti-accountability bill also tramples on the NH Constitution by creating a special, separate, protected class solely for law enforcement, in direct violation of Article 10 of the NH Constitution that states: “Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men…”
Then there is the Laurie’s List/Exculpatory Evidence Schedule issue. If you have been following along, you will know this is a secret list of bad cops that is actively being kept secret from the public despite now two court cases ordering that it be made public. Even the stacked Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force recommended the EES should be disclosed.
A reminder: The EES is a list of New Hampshire law enforcement officers with sustained findings of misconduct for credibility or trustworthiness, for things like lying, falsifying reports, stealing, and excessive force.
In a court order dated April 23, 2019, Judge Charles Temple ruled the EES is “not confidential,” and “is not exempt from disclosure under RSA 91-A,” and “that it should be made public”.
Judge Temple ruled there was a compelling public interest in knowing which law enforcement officers have been deemed by their own police chiefs, after a 20-page process, to be so untrustworthy that they cannot testify in court.
Let’s repeat that for the folks in the back: There is a secret list of about 270 New Hampshire law enforcement agents that are deemed so untrustworthy they cannot take the stand in court, that your Attorney General has spent several extra years now, despite court orders to the contrary, fighting to continue to keep secret from you. I also remind you, we saw last summer what happens when you create an institutional process that protects “bad apples,” exactly what SB39 wants to do.
The NH Constitution says: [Art.] 8. [Accountability of Magistrates and Officers; Public’s Right to Know.] All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them.Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted. The public also has a right to an orderly, lawful, and accountable government.”
Hiding police personnel files and disciplinary actions is NOT “open, accessible, accountable or responsive” government. Everyone knows, police reform, with more accountability and transparency is needed, not less. In order to institute reforms, we must know what is going on. It starts here today, with you. Please OPPOSE SB39.
Thank you for your time.
My name is Carla Gericke, former Republican state Senate candidate in District 20. I live in Manchester, NH, am an attorney, and serve on several nonprofit boards, including Right-to-Know NH, a nonpartisan citizens’ coalition that works to improve government transparency, a crucial component to maintaining public trust in our institutions.
Today, I’m submitting my written testimony in my personal capacity, and ask that you SUPPORT SB41 in order to increase police accountability by opening police disciplinary hearings to the public. Even though I have also signed up to testify orally, I ask that this email testimony be submitted into the permanent record for this bill.
Last summer, during the nationwide protests, we saw quite clearly that without trust in the people enforcing our laws, everything starts to break down. For years now, law enforcement officials have been overly protected at the expense of your constituents. Today, you have an opportunity to start to right that wrong.
More transparency leads to faster reforms. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, and you can’t know what’s broken when you hide the truth. Opening disciplinary actions to public scrutiny must happen in order to restore trust.
Police officers do not have a privacy interest when acting in their official capacities. Other professions have public disciplinary hearings… why not police officers, especially when considering the nature of their work?
Any disciplinary action before the Police Standards and Training Council, of course, creates a significant and compelling public interest, both with regard to the officer and the Council that is supposed to be providing the oversight.
Based on the number of officers that are being hidden from the public on the Laurie’s List/Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (more than 270 at one time), there is an immediate and urgent need for more public scrutiny of this entire process.
The New Hampshire Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency, concurs, recommending under #22 in its Final Report to “Make the existing Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES)” a public record. Both the ACLU-NH and the NH Press Association also support this bill to increase transparency and accountability.
Public scrutiny is our best check and balance to hold law enforcement officials accountable. It starts with this bill, and your appetite to do what is right in the name of restoring public trust. Without trust, everything will crumble… Don’t let this happen on your watch.
Thank you for your time.