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PD's request for more patrolmen goes unanswered

November 03, 2010
TILTON — The Police Department is asking for at least one more patrolman to add to its depleted roster, but the Board of Selectmen argued Thursday that the department's budget is already too high.

Several members of the Tilton Police Department urged the board to consider filling one or two of the positions that have been vacant for months, saying its left the remaining staff working extra hours on nights, holidays and weekends. They also said the department isn't providing the best service it could.

"There are crimes that are occurring in the town that are going undetected, because we're short staffed," Patrolman Steven Henry said. "We're putting officers at risk, and we feel we're putting citizens at risk."

He said he would expect there to be some wiggle room in the budget, as a couple positions have been vacated and not filled, and an officer serving overseas is not drawing a salary while he's gone.

Selectman Katherine Dawson referred to a spreadsheet she'd drawn up that included the 2007 budgets of other police departments in towns similar to Tilton, because "The only way I can make a determination is dollars," she said.

Dawson said she felt North Hampton most closely resembles Tilton in terms of population, physical size, summer tourists, and commercial industry. According to her numbers, North Hampton's police budget amounts to $270 per person. Tilton's is $456 per person.

"As a selectman, I have to justify, financially, our police department," Dawson said. "It's almost twice (as much per person). How do I justify that?"

Lieutenant Dickie Paulhus pointed out that some towns don't include health insurance or retirement in their department budgets but instead factor those items into the administrative budget.

"Make sure you're comparing apples to apples," he said.

Patrolman Luke Pinault pointed out that the Hampton area is a ghost town in the winter, and it's surrounded by wealthy towns like Rye, as opposed to less affluent cities like Franklin and Laconia.

Henry looked through North Hampton's call log and noted one day when the town received 13 calls for service, and a Saturday when they had 19.

"That's just a couple hours at our PD," board Chair Pat Consentino said.

Consentino pointed to Tilton's log, which recorded 1,028 calls in September.

Henry said North Hampton's calls also looked minor, such as traffic violations and directed patrols.

"It's not just the amount of call volume that you get … it's also the amount of officers it takes to deal with that call and the amount of time it takes to deal with that call," he said.

Paulhus said the department could dissolve the two detective positions and put them on patrol, but then no one would be available to handle long-term cases, like drug raids and fraud.

Detective Mat Dawson said after a recent robbery at knifepoint at Pizza Hut, the restaurant's regional manager praised the department for its follow-up.

"He couldn't believe the amount of time and work that was put into that for (a $2,000 theft)," Dawson said.

Looking over a printout, Consentino said two Tilton officers spent nearly 30 hours each working on a theft case, and two others spent 98 hours on a fraud case that resulted in two arrests.

But some of the selectmen weren't convinced that the cost of hiring another patrolman is what residents would want.

"A lot of people are having a tough time paying their taxes," Selectman David Wadleigh said. "The people that are paying the bills are the ones that are complaining."

Dawson said she still couldn't understand how the cost per person for police services in Tilton could be so far from other towns and cities in the state. The next highest town of those she researched is Moultonboro, which is at $311 per person. Manchester is $199 per person, and Concord is $244 per person.

"We have to do a juggling act," Selectman Norm Boudreau said. "We have to be able to say to our taxpayers, we're keeping you safe and we're trying to save you money to boot … If we had the money, you'd have all the manpower you need."

Pinault likened the cost of paying for police services to the car insurance payment he makes every month. He complains about it, but it's a "necessary evil," he said.

He asked the selectmen to put faith in the police force and its knowledge of what it needs to "maintain and exceed" service.

Paulhus said he's seen the six patrolmen on staff now getting burnt out.

"I was in their shoes as a patrolman, and I know what it's like to run short," he said. "It is very stressful."

"It's been four years since we asked for anything," Henry said. "We're men, we're proud, we like to do as much as we can with less. We're here now because we need it."

Consentino said the board will discuss the matter in nonpublic and "take it under advisement."

"We're certainly aware that we've got one of the best departments around," Wadleigh said.

Varney Smith
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