Police chief responds to overzealous enforcement complaints
January 21, 2010
WOLFEBORO — At the Jan. 14 police commission meeting, Chief Stuart Chase and Police Commission Chairman Ben Ladd responded to charges made by former commissioners Molly Leone and Joe Melanson, respectively, at the Dec. 17 meeting that police are "overzealous" in their enforcement and that the commissioners did not follow proper procedure in going into and out of non-public session on Nov. 19.
Leone, who has often raised concerns at the number of protective custody arrests, focused on citations at the last meeting and wondered if there were department quotas. When Chase responded that 90 percent of the stops were warnings and educational, she asked for figures on the percentage of stops resulting in citations.
The chief's estimate was close. He reported that of the 1,101 motor vehicle stops made in 2009, 105 people were issued verbal warnings and 811 received written warnings. There were four citation arrests (summonses in lieu of arrest) and 181 traffic tickets.
"Clearly, 84 percent of the stops made by Wolfeboro police officers are non-punitive and are intended to educate the motoring public," said Chase. "It also demonstrates that officers have tremendous discretion in dealing with these matters and further dispels that nonsense about quotas and such."
Chase went on to say that he had conferred with the officer who made the two stops that Leone had reported seeing on Bay Street within ten minutes one afternoon. According to the officer, one driver was stopped for going through a stop sign and given a warning, while the other, a young man who told Leone that he had been stopped repeatedly by police, was recorded going north on Bay Street at 52 miles per hour. The officer said that he noted three separate violations but wrote a citation only for the least punitive of the three.
"I would offer that if he respects the rules of the road and operates a motor vehicle accordingly, he will have no contact with police officers, " Chase said, continuing, "By the way, this same person recently admitted to burglary and theft allegations during an investigation by Lt. Rondeau. Seems to me, he has some personal issues."
Chase said that the department receives many complaints about speed and the recent citizen survey responses also reflect that concern. "To question these legitimate and basic patrol functions as potentially 'overzealous' is not based in fact in either situation."
Ladd took up the matter of whether the procedures followed for nonpublic session on Nov. 17 were improper. He said he had a copy of the pertinent Right to Know law from an attorney at the Local Government Center and that he had followed the correct protocol. The commission can announce that it has sealed the non-public minutes when it goes back into public session.
The secretary, Amy Capone-Muccio, said the announcement, upon reentry into public session, that the non-public minutes are sealed is duly recorded in the minutes each time that occurs.
The next meeting of the police commission will be Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.