Incumbent N.H. U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas is taking fire from his would-be GOP challengers over his decision to sign onto legislation ending special protections for police from lawsuits.
As NHJournal has previously reported, Pappas and his fellow N.H. Democrat Rep. Annie Kuster recently voted for the Justice in Policing Act, claiming to help solve the problems of police misconduct and racial bias.
One element in the bill would, according to supporters, “allow individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.”
Pappas reaffirmed his support for stripping police officers of this legal protection on WMUR, telling Adam Sexton: “We have highlighted the work that good police officers are doing and look for ways to deal with the officers. No one hates a bad cop as much as a good cop, and we have to create a system to see a culture change in law enforcement.”
While the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association has been silent on the issue, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a statement. “Qualified immunity is a foundational protection for the policing profession and any modification to this legal standard will have a devastating impact on the police’s ability to fulfill its public safety mission.”
Republicans running in the N.H.-01 primary for the chance to challenge Pappas in November are siding with the police.
“I am disgusted that Chris Pappas can look our brave law enforcement officers in the eye, tell them he supports them, and then turn around to support a measure that he now admits was chiefly about ending qualified immunity. Instead of supporting our law enforcement, Chris Pappas is playing political games with this radical measure that will make good cops’ jobs both more dangerous and impossible,” Republican candidate Matt Mowers said in a statement.
His campaign also sent out a statement from Paul Callaghan, lieutenant in the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office and candidate for Strafford County sheriff: “We want to encourage police departments to meet the most current professional standards for use of force, including using de-escalation techniques.
“At the same time, we must confront the reality that good police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions in dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances,” he said. “When the safety of the community and officer is jeopardized because of fear of frivolous lawsuits, we’ve dangerously politicized law enforcement.”
Not to be outdone, Republican congressional candidate Matt Mayberry also spoke out against Pappas’ support for ending qualified immunity.
“Pappas wants to give illegal immigrants free tuition, free healthcare, and any other handout he can think of, but when it comes to the police he wants to defund, insult, and dismantle them. This is just another example of his failure of leadership, and failure to represent our New Hampshire values,” Mayberry told NHJournal.
The issue of qualified immunity is complex, and the fight to end it has support across the political spectrum from the progressive Black Lives Matter movement to the libertarian Cato Institute.
While there is no New Hampshire public polling on the issue, surveys do show that Granite Staters overwhelmingly trust their local police. Americans also tend to dislike trial lawyers and lawsuits, more of which would follow if qualified immunity is eliminated.
The issue doesn’t just create a problem with Republicans for Pappas.
In 2018, Pappas received the endorsement of police organizations like the New Hampshire Troopers Association and the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association over his GOP opponent, former South Hampton police chief Eddie Edwards.
Do voters care enough about this issue to change their vote? And will this issue become more high profile if the violence in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois, makes its way to New Hampshire?