On The Political Front: Police Incidents Touch Debates on Body Cameras, Gun Access

May 16, 2016

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Editing on Mondays to discuss the latest in New Hampshire politics and the news that's likely to shape the conversation among the state's lawmakers. 

So, Josh. Let’s start with the events of last week. The video footage captured on in Nashua that showed police swarming and punching a man as he appeared to surrender after a car chase that began in Massachusetts, and the shooting of two Manchester police officers by a suspect with a history of mental illness.

Yes, both incident touch policy debates a foot in Concord right now. Bodycams have been getting a look from policymakers for some time. What appears likely is a policy to codify when and how body cams can be used by local law enforcement.

A good deal of the debate has focused on the contexts in which the cameras would be permitted – during enforcement contexts, basically -- and when they wouldn’t -- when police were in schools, or during interviews with crime victims. You know, officials haven’t confirmed if any of the officers involved in the Nashua incident wore bodycams, but we know the New Hampshire trooper put on leave pending the AG’s investigation of the incident wasn’t wearing one, because state police in New Hampshire don’t wear them.

Now, my recollection is that at least one of the body cam bills started out as a proposal to require state police wear cameras.

It did, and the cost of outfitting every trooper with bodycams, which was has been estimated to cost nearly half-million dollars up front and about half that annually, led lawmakers to head a in a different directions pretty quickly. But, I think it’s also fair to say state police weren’t clamoring to move past dash cams, which many of their cars now have, towards body cams.

Last year state police were planning to test out some donated bodycams – donated by a potential vendor -- but that never happened. I expect last week’s incident to help lawmakers reach some sort of deal. Governor Hassan has trod pretty lightly on this whole issue, but has signaled she’d probably back a body cam bill if it reaches her.

On the Political Front is Morning Edition's weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers

Let’s turn to the shooting in Manchester. We know the two officers that were shot are both recovering and out of the hospital, and that Ian Macpherson, the shooter, will be arraigned today on two counts of attempted capital murder. And we know Macpherson’s family says Ian Macpherson has suffered from mental illness.

Yes, schizophrenia, according to his family. And as quoted in the Union Leader yesterday, McPherson’s father said, not in an accusatory way, that his son had been ill-served by New Hampshire’s beleaguered mental health system. He said his son had sought help at hospitals, would be given medication and be back on the street.

Putting aside the specifics --which we don’t know -- the complaint that mental heath treatment can be hard to get in New Hampshire is a pretty common one. We’ll obviously be learning a good deal more about Ian Macpherson very soon. But one thing that’s been frustrating for some lawmakers at the state house, and this incident, fairly or not, may inflame it, is that a year after completing work on a new ten bed unit at New Hampshire Hospital to help handle people in mental health crisis situations, the unit has to open. It’s supposed to be open in July.

Of course, another question is why someone like Ian Macpherson, with a history of mental illness, and according to his family, some run-ins with the law, had a gun in the first place?

Sure. And that’s a good question. If they don’t already know, police will be trying to sort that out. And the political tension that tends to ensue when the second amendment and mental illness collide is obviously nothing new, nationally or locally.

Recall a couple of years ago, post-Newtown, when some lawmakers considered a bill that would have prohibited anyone with a court finding of mental illness from buying guns. That proposal quickly bogged down. Right now the only guns bills pending in Concord are two bills that aim to ease New Hampshire’s current approach to carrying concealed weapons. Both seem likely to make it Governor Hassan’s desk.

One would get rid of the permitting process entirely. The other would require police chiefs to issue permits to anyone legally qualified to have a weapon. House and senate negotiators still need to come to terms on common language. But the end result if fairly certain at this point. Governor Hassan has vetoed similar bills in the past, and says she’ll do the same this time.