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Local police chiefs concerned about proposed jail policy

June 17, 2010
OSSIPEE — County Commissioners want the county jail to stop processing suspects who get personal recognizance bail. This would be a major change for small police departments who lack the proper facilities and the staff to do the booking themselves, said two local police chiefs.

"The problem is when police officers drop people off who are going to be P.R. bailed, then we have to provide the space and manpower to process that person," said Commissioner Chip Albee. "We're the only county in the state that does this system and due to budget constraints and the general attitude of the delegation, our resources are limited."

Albee was referring to the Carroll County Legislative Delegation, which sets the county budget.

In fact, the jail, on County Farm Road, only has about 70 percent of the staff it needs. Currently, the jail has 27 employees when it needs about 40, said Albee. The jail's staff shouldn't be doing police work — including public recognizance bails. But it should still accept suspects who are a danger to themselves or the community, said Albee.

Personal recognizance bail is a promise to appear in court, or else pay a penalty. A bail commissioner, a judge, or a clerk determines the bail amount. The bail commissioner also charges a nominal fee for service.

Allowing personal recognizance bails at the jail created an awkward situation at the end of last month, said Albee according to the June 2 commission meeting minutes. One night, the State Police had arrested a homeless woman who was living out of her car, which they impounded. The State Police dropped her off at the jail for personal recognizance bail. The woman wanted bail, so they had to release her even though she had nowhere to go, said Albee.

County Commission Chair David Sorensen replied that the county should notify law enforcement agencies and the selectmen that there will be a change in the policy.

House of Correction Capt. Mike Fowler said having a homeless shelter in Carroll County would be a 'huge benefit,' according to the minutes.

In a phone interview, Lt. Scott Carr of New Hampshire State Police, Troop E, said Troop E would adjust to any policy the County Commission wants to have. Troop E can book suspects but doesn't have a holding cell. There is no set policy for where a person is to be booked. It depends where the arrest takes place, if the suspect is likely to get cash bail, and what the suspect was arrested for.

Carr would not comment on the woman that Albee spoke about. However, suspects have a constitutional right to bail, he said. Intoxicated suspects or those who are a danger can be held, he said.

The new policy for personal recognizance bail was still a work in progress said House of Corrections Superintendent Jason Johnson on Tuesday. Johnson said he plans to meet with Albee on Wednesday to discuss the policy. Once it's done, they will share it with the police chiefs.

The jail has already been asking police departments to send their daytime arrest suspects to Carroll County court complex for processing. The court complex, located near the jail, is on Water Village Road.

Johnson said Albee's Proposal would be a "significant change" for small law enforcement agencies.

Tamworth Police Chief Dan Poirier said Albee's proposal would impact small police department like his. Many rural departments like Tamworth have times when only one officer is on duty. Having a lone officer bring a suspect or suspects into the station can be worrying because any suspect is potentially dangerous.

"It's a huge officer safety issue," said Poirier.

Also, it can take hours for the bail commissioners to arrive. Meanwhile, the lone officer cannot go back to patrolling because he or she has to "baby sit" the suspect. In addition, many local departments, like Tamworth, don't have holding cells or anywhere to put suspects during the booking process when the court is closed, said Poirier. The police department is totally responsible for suspects' health and welfare.

Poirier asked the Tamworth Selectmen to support his protest of Albee's suggestion.

The board did not make an official statement, but Selectmen Bob Abraham suggested "taking it up with the commissioner."

Effingham Police Chief Joe Collins said he hopes the county would give local police time to adjust. Collins said he hasn't heard anything official from the county about the change, but has heard second hand information.

"It would change the dynamic at a lot of police departments," said Collins.

The Effingham police chief shared Poirer's concerns regarding manpower and facilities. Police departments should have a cell or at least a bench where the suspect can be restrained. There has to be two officers doing the booking in case the situation gets out of control, said Collins.

"Having officers do bails alone goes against officer safety protocol," said Collins. "That would be totally unacceptable."

But Freedom Police Chief Josh Shackford said the decision shouldn't affect Freedom because they book nonviolent suspects at the police station or at the court complex.

According to Police Standards and Training, in Concord, what constitutes an officer safety issue is a matter for police chiefs to decide.

In other commission news:

— County Commissioners expressed a reluctance to support a petition to name the new nursing home's break room or café after former county commissioner Peter Olkkola, who died last year. Commissioners shared their feelings after being asked for comment by petitioner David Babson, of Ossipee.

The rub, said commissioners, is that the county delegation created a nonprofit organization that's goal is to raise $2 million to offset the cost of the bond. One of the nonprofit's revenue-streams is likely to be selling the right to name rooms.

"We can't just drag a large room out of the equation," said Albee who called the petition's aims "premature."

The $23.5 million new nursing home is still under construction and is expected to complete next summer. Sorensen said although Olkkola was a supporter of the effort to build a new nursing home, he was opposed to spending $23.5 million.

"Maybe we should name half a room then," Babson replied.

— Fresenuis Medical Care is considering putting a small dialysis facility somewhere in Carroll County.

Currently, many local dialysis patients must travel three days per week to Rochester, Lancaster, Laconia, or Maine. Since January, County Commissioners have looked ways to bring the service to the region.

Last week, Fresenuis' Lynne Bamford and Kathy Dickey that they were looking at putting a six-station dialysis center somewhere in the county — which is much smaller than the typical facility. A normal facility would have 12 or more stations. Bamford said such a plan would require approval from the company's executive board and that could take a month. Opening a facility could take a year.

One of the first obstacles would be to find an appropriate facility. Requirements include having a building with access to municipal water and 4,000 to 6,000 square feet on a ground floor. It also has to be an appropriate distance from other facilities, for example Wakefield would be too close to the dialysis center in Rochester, said Bamford and Dickey. Bamford said she would welcome information about possible locations. She can be reached at 436-4567.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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