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Sheriff questions Freedom police over response time

November 04, 2009
FREEDOM — The County Sheriff says Freedom Police took too long to answer a late night 911 emergency call last month. But Freedom's police chief said his officer responded promptly given that he was on call.

Sheriff Christopher Conley is launching a formal inquiry into why it took county dispatchers about five minutes and three attempts to call a Freedom police officer to respond to a domestic violence call at around 3:22 a.m. on Oct. 25.

Conley said as of Tuesday morning, Freedom police have not responded to his written requests for information.

On Tuesday night, Freedom Police Chief Josh Shackford said he was preparing to send Conley a response.

The dispatcher called the officer's cell phone, pager, and home phone number. State police were also dispatched to the incident because according to police protocol officers don't respond to domestic violence calls alone.

During the call to the home phone, someone hung up but it's not clear who did, said Conley. Five minutes after the initial 911 call to dispatch, the Freedom officer called dispatch back, said Conley, who wants an officer to be dispatched in one minute.

"I want a cop to answer the phone 100 percent of the time with zero defects," said Conley on Tuesday. "We can't have errors in the communication business because the stakes are too high."

The incident on Oct. 25 was the second time county dispatchers had difficulty finding a Freedom Officer to respond. However, the previous incident was less serious.

But Freedom Police Chief Josh Shackford said it only took two minutes for his officer to call dispatch, which is within the industry standard of three minutes.

"I'm not sure where the problem lies," said Shackford. "I'm not seeing the five minute gap."

According to Shackford, the original call to the officer came in at 3:27 a.m. and the Freedom officer called dispatch back at 3:29 a.m. At that hour, Freedom has an officer on call but he or she would likely be sleeping. Ultimately, the Freedom police were able to arrest the underage suspect for internal possession of alcohol, and he was taken to jail, said Shackford.

Freedom Police don't have the budget to keep an officer in uniform 24 hours per day and officers are not paid while they're on call, Shackford said. The only way to improve response time would be to increase his department's manpower and the cost would be "huge," said Shackford.

Selectman Neal Boyle asked how many officers it would take to have the Freedom Police operate 24 hours per day.

Shackford replied the department would need to triple it's manpower to at least nine officers and police department facility would also need to be upgraded. Shackford said he's open to listening to alternatives to adding officers.

The issue was made public during Monday night's selectmen's meeting. Selectmen discussed contacting the County Commission and inviting the Sheriff to a selectmen's meeting.

Conley said he'd like to coordinate with Freedom so response times can be improved. Conley added he's always been willing to accommodate requests for help. Conley said he's not inquiring about response times in other towns.

In other selectmen's business:

• Selectmen are drafting a warrant article limiting use of fireworks to four days before and four days after Independence Day. During that period fireworks could be shot off until 10 p.m. Selectmen will likely continue drafting the fireworks warrant article at their next meeting on Monday. Selectmen hope to present residents with the warrant article in March.

Town of Alexandria
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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