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Castleberry Fairs

Carroll County Sheriff mulls coverage gaps with local police


July 15, 2010
TAMWORTH — The county sheriff had a powwow with police chiefs from several municipal departments during last week's selectmen's meeting.

At the meeting on Thursday, July 8, Sheriff Chris Conley, of Wolfeboro, stressed that he's looking for ways to improve the coordination of law enforcement resources in the county. Top on his list is making sure that his dispatchers can quickly deliver 9-1-1 calls to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. Last year, Conley complained that it took several minutes for dispatchers to reach a Freedom police officer for a late night domestic violence call. It's important to coordinate schedules because only five of Carroll County's 18 towns have 24-hour municipal police coverage.

Even the state police and the county sheriff's department don't operate 24 hours per day. In fact, Conley said State Police Troop E, in Tamworth, told him that they wouldn't send a Trooper out at 4 a.m. because it would cost too much overtime.

"It's 4 a.m. your loved one has called 9-1-1, I want you to know with assurance that I'm going to hand that call off as soon as possible," said Conley. "I'm not going to have any delay in handing off that call."

But Freedom Police Chief Josh Shackford questioned if it was possible to close all the schedule gaps given the lack manpower and resources that are available. He wondered what specifically the sheriff wanted to do. In regard to that late night domestic violence call, Shackford said at the time, that his officer called back in about two minutes — which is inside the acceptable limit of three minutes. The officer was on call and most likely sleeping.

""We use our resources the best we can," said Shackford. "It's hard to ask my guys to work for free and we're already taking tons of calls for free."

Selectman Willie Farnum echoed Shackford's concerns.

"We're constrained by what the voters will allocate for the police department," said Farnum. "Obviously the economics are not good. The changes have to be made without costing extra money because the money won't be there."

Conley replied that the answer is increasing government efficiency. In an emergency, the sheriff's department will do what ever it takes to get the job done, he said. In towns that don't have municipal police, like Eaton and Albany, the sheriff's department responds to calls on an as needed basis.

"Our accountability to the public is the standard I go by," said Conley.

Tamworth Police Chief Dan Poirier wondered why Conley said that the sheriff's department wasn't his responsibility to patrol the town and that his department wasn't going to do it.

But Conley insisted that he and Poirer could make a schedule to cover gaps —that might include improving the mutual aid system with another municipality. Further, Conley said his department has backed up Tamworth "100 percent of the time."

"I'm not aware of any request by a chief of police that has gone unfulfilled," said Conley.

Later in the evening, Conley said the sheriff's department didn't actually have a patrol function, but it does have two people who do criminal investigations.

Selectman Bob Abraham was concerned about a shift in policy that the county commissioners were considering at the jail. Commissioner Chip Albee has been advocating a policy whereby the jail wouldn't book prisoners who are to be released on personal recognizance bail — because the jail is also short-staffed and booking is not one of the jail's responsibilities. This worried small town police chiefs and selectmen who don't have booking facilities at their police stations.

Conley replied that the jail was not his purview — but he wishes that the county commissioners consulted local law enforcement agencies –including his own.

"I have the exact same situation, said Conley. "I wasn't consulted with on that. We'd brought a guy there and they said you can't bring him in."

At commission meetings, Albee has said he wants the policy to be flexible for small towns.

The sheriff's department has about 45 staff members — including deputies, court bailiffs, and civilian dispatchers.

Police chiefs or officers from Madison, Effingham, Tuftonboro, and Ossipee also attended.

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