The Franconia Police Study Panel met with residents at a meeting last Thursday evening. The panel members, seated at the table from left to right, are Tina Peabody, Bob Montagno, Dinny Richmond, Curt Lucas, Ray Holland and Carl Belz. Deb Maes, facilitator, is standing. Darin Wipperman/The Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012FRANCONIA — For two hours last Thursday evening, residents met at the town hall to discuss the future of the police department. The Police Panel held the public meeting to gain input on its work.
The selectmen charged the panel earlier this year to provide recommendations on police services. Selectman Roland Barnaby noted that the "very conscientious" panel has "worked together" well. He also thanked the community for its interest. Approximately 30 town residents attended.
Panel members Tina Peabody, Bob Montagno, Ray Holland, Carl Belz, Dinny Richmond and Curt Lucas attended the meeting. Deb Maes, Grafton County Extension, facilitated the panel's meetings and Thursday's public session.
The panel's work has focused on finding the "best value" for the town. The police department's staffing, structure, and work space were the focus of the panel's study.
Carl Belz spoke to provide an update to town residents. The evening's meeting was designed to "solicit some input from the citizens we are serving," Belz said. He noted that the panel received expert views from town employees and State Police Troop F. This "very helpful" input, Belz said, aided the panel.
The panel unanimously had agreed that the town should maintain a police department. Belz informed the town of the panel's "strong consensus" that the department's current staffing level of three officers be maintained.
Additionally, residents were informed of the panel's belief that the current police facility "is inadequate," and "this is not a new question." This was followed by some laughter from a few audience members.
Belz noted that the panel's idea that the department relocate to the town hall was "strong" but not unanimous.
He continued by saying it was "pretty firm in the mind of the committee" that the Selectmen should hire a chief, who would then provide input on a new officer.
Lively debate ensued during the public input portion of the meeting. Attendees were divided on the department's conduct. Some spoke of instances where officers harass or intimidate residents. Others said officers perform great service to the town in an effort to uphold the law and protect the public.
The department's physical location was another point of debate. Some residents suggested that the department should move to the town hall. Others responded with concerns about parking and flood plain issues. Sally Small, town administrative assistant, said she has seen "things floating in the garage" at the town hall during flooding events.
Dan Fowler argued that Franconia's officers cannot afford to live in the community. He was disheartened with the panel's apparent focus on "brick and mortar" rather than with forming a "long lasting" police force that will be respected in the community. Panel member Ray Holland said that the panel did examine pay for department officers.
Earl Collins and other residents were upset about the lack of progress. The panel was offering "nothing new," Collins said. He was concerned that the selectmen had not acted to ensure an "accountable" police department. This inactivity, Collins said, meant that the selectmen "have failed this town."
Others echoed these concerns. One resident said that issues discussed during the meeting have been "studied to death." He said that the lack of progress was "horrendous" and "crazy."
Small believes that the panel will issue a report to the selectmen by mid-May.