SB 39 Bars Disclosure of Police Misconduct

David Saad of Rumney NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition of SB 39 which would exempt police records and misconduct from public disclosure:

Part I, Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Right-to-Know law are the fundamental prerequisites for a self-governing people. As the legislature made clear in the preamble to the Right-to-Know law: “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.” The Right-to-Know Law helps further our State Constitutional requirement that “the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.”  To categorically exempt all law enforcement officer personnel files and investigations would violate the Part 1, Article 8 of the NH Constitution.

The determination of whether certain records should be exempt often comes down to a balance between privacy interests and a public’s interest in disclosure.  The courts use the following 3 steps to evaluate whether disclosure constitutes an invasion of privacy:

  • Is there a privacy interest at stake that would be invaded by the disclosure?
  • Would disclosure inform the public about the conduct and activities of its government?
  • Balance the public interest in disclosure against the government’s interest in non-disclosure and the individual’s privacy interest in non-disclosure.

Police officers should not have a privacy interest with respect to their official conduct.   

When it comes to the behavior of the police in their official capacity, especially when it concerns misconduct, there is no privacy or confidentiality interest in nondisclosure. Police officers perform vital functions on behalf of the public, and their misconduct creates the potential for considerable social harm.  Police officers are trusted with one of the most basic and necessary functions of civilized society, securing and preserving public safety.

Police, by the nature of their duties and power, must be held to a higher standard.  That higher standard must include transparency regarding their misconduct.  Their conduct must be open to public scrutiny to allow for adequate checks and balances to ensure bad behavior cannot hide behind a veil of secrecy, erode the public’s trust, or bring harm to those they swear to protect.

Additional testimony submitted by the ACLU.

To record your opposition to this bill contact the Senate Judiciary Committee via the remote sign in sheet.

To view RTKNH’s position on all Right to Know Bills, click here.