Area police chiefs protest county jail's new booking policy
July 29, 2010
OSSIPEE — About a half dozen area police chiefs protested the county commission's new booking policy for the jail during a meeting on July 21. By the meeting's end, the commission agreed to hold off implementing the policy while convincing the lawmen that they should lobby the county delegation to increase the county jail's budget next year.
The commission described the new booking policy in a memo dated July 1. If implemented, the policy would have immediately ended the county's long-standing practice of having the jail's staff perform the booking procedure for arrestees who will be released on personal recognizance, which is no cash bail.
Police Officers would still be able to bring the arrestees to the jail, but they will have to do the booking themselves. Booking includes taking the arrestees' fingerprints, photo, and calling for the bail commissioner and arranging bail.
Having the jail staff do that work allowed the arresting officers to quickly return to their patrol function. The chiefs were instructed to follow the policy unless doing so would compromise public safety by taking a department's only on-duty officer off the road.
"Your staff will be required to stay with the arrestee until the bail commissioner arrives and completes bail," states the memo. "It will be the arresting officer's responsibility to ensure the person has obtained a ride and confirmed a ride is in fact coming. Once that is verified, the officer is free to leave. If the individual is not able to secure a ride, it will be the officer's responsibility to transport the individual to a safe location. The individual will not be allowed to remain at the facility."
Arrestees may be transferred to the jail if deemed dangerous or intoxicated. There is also a procedure for those who refuse bail.
Jail officials have already been asking police departments to send their weekday arrest subjects to Carroll County court complex for processing. The local police chief's didn't mind doing that. However, the chiefs said the problem becomes when the court is closed. If enacted, the policy would have required officers to book the prisoners themselves and in the event the prisoner is freed, wait until the person's ride shows up. That could take hours, said the chiefs. Wakefield Police Chief Ken Fifield asked the commissioners to rethink their policy.
"When you limit these services, you're adding two and a half hours to every arrest we do," said Fifield. "In Wakefield… that's adding about 1,000 hours of overtime I didn't budget."
At the direction of the commission, Superintendent Jason Johnson wrote the memo informing the chiefs about the change.
The reason for the policy, said Commissioner Chip Albee, is that the jail is severely understaffed and therefore needs to focus on its "core mission" — housing prisoners. That lack of staff, confirmed by independent analysis, could put the county at risk of liability if there is a crisis at the jail, said Albee. The long-term solution to this issue is to convince the county delegation, a group of 14 state representatives who set the entire county budget, to allocate more funding to the jail, said Albee.
"We've got a manpower issue, I know you guys are working as hard as you possibly can with as little money as you can drag out of your selectmen to do it," said Albee. "We are on the horns of a dilemma."
Monetarily, the county would save $35,000 to $40,000 just in office supplies by not doing personal recognizance bails. Jail guards will check on police officers while they book the prisoners, but they will not be in the room during the entire process, Johnson explained.
After Johnson spoke, Madison Police Chief James Mullen called on the other chiefs to help the county commission lobby the delegation to adequately fund the jail's budget.
"I think all of us would rather come together to support your budget increasing $30,000," said Mullen. "Something like that would be better than potentially jeopardizing safety and saving $30,000 for you but tacking on $500,000 to the individual towns in overtime, facility construction, and insurance."
In response, Albee said he agreed with Mullen. Then he admitted that a reason for the memo was to get the chiefs to speak with the commission.
"I don't think you would have come to the table without the memo," said Albee. "We're not trying to make your life miserable. We're trying to make it work and it is going to take a little bit of money… it's a matter of convincing the people who hold the purse strings."
Commission Chair David Sorensen encouraged the chiefs to speak with their respective delegate prior to a meeting — that way the representatives will be well educated in advance. Further, Sorensen said the commission could hold off on implementing the policy until a plan can be established. In the meantime, the jail will process inmates for police when the court is closed.
Albee added the chiefs ought to lobby the clerks of the county's district courts to appoint more bail commissioners so that the wait isn't so long.
The policy's requirement that officers wait for the arrest subject to get transportation was developed after State Police dropped a homeless person off at the jail. The person was living in a car, which police impounded. Handling homeless arrest subjects is a growing problem at the jail, Albee said.
But Ossipee Police Chief Donald Grow interjected that when homeless people are brought to the jail they become the burden of the Town of Ossipee when they are released.
Albee replied that would put a tremendous burden on Ossipee.
"Under that paradigm, every town in the county who has a homeless person would arrest them and bring them to the county, drop them off, and your welfare budget in Ossipee goes through the roof because you are now the home for all the homeless," said Albee. "What we wanted to do is to keep the officer involved in the process."
Tamworth Police Chief Dan Poirier said his department lacks the facility to process a prisoner and doubts the town would be willing to pay the money to build such a facility. That would require creating a holding cell and processing area and putting cameras through out the system.
Chiefs or high-ranking officers from the following towns attended: Wolfeboro, Tamworth, Ossipee, Freedom, Effingham, Sandwich, Madison, and Tuftonboro.