Police Chief Ed Garone used hand gestures to express the process of working out a suitable budget for his department.
“This is the police department,” he said, holding his hands about 18 inches apart. “This is everyone else, after we talked with Galen (Stearns, town administrator).” He spread his hands wider. “And when it gets to the Council level, it is even wider,” Garone said.
Garone discussed his budget needs at the April 21 Town Council meeting as Town Administrator Galen Stearns presented his working budget for 2016.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked Garone, “What impact will the Town Administrator’s proposed budget have on the Police Department’s ability to protect the town?”
While the department is not facing any personnel cuts in Stearns’ proposal, part of the savings includes a $25,000 reduction in overtime, Garone said. That works out to 70 shifts he will not be able to cover.
“We assign our overtime on a day-by-day, case-by-case basis,” Garone said. “We are attentive to the needs when we assign training.” Officers undergoing training must have their shifts covered by someone else, he explained, and that often means overtime.
“But we are trying to reduce overtime,” he added.
Katsakiores asked, “If the Police Department doesn’t have the available manpower, when can we reasonably expect back-up? How long will it take to arrive?”
Garone said he has mutual aid agreements with several communities, but the one that responds the most often is Londonderry. “We use them infrequently,” he said. “Their response time is 10 to 15 minutes.”
“What about the State Police?” Councilor Al Dimmock asked.
Garone said Derry calls on the State Police infrequently. Its most frequent calls for mutual aid are to Londonderry, and that’s because Londonderry has a canine unit, he said.
The State Police may assist in a crisis but they are not available to patrol neighborhoods, Garone said.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon asked how many calls were responded to in an average day.
Garone had already done the math and said each officer is assigned an average of 29,000 calls a year. “That’s an average,” he said. “A hot summer night would blow up the average. A cold night in February, it would be quiet.”
Bourdon spoke to the increase in drug use, and overdoses, in the past several years.
Garone said in a rough estimate, 80 to 90 percent of burglaries are committed by a person or persons intent on obtaining money for illicit drugs. “Heroin is the drug of choice,” he said.
And Garone called unchecked heroin use “a death sentence.”
It’s a societal problem, Garone said, but also a police problem because of the ancillary effects – crime, domestic abuse and more. His department can make up to three calls a day to a local big-box store for shoplifting issues, he said. The current practice is to steal an item, “return” it for a store credit, take the credit to a pawn shop, get 50 cents on the dollar and spend it on drugs, he said.
“This is skyrocketing,” Garone said of crime linked to drugs.
But the one bright note is that deaths due to overdoses are down, thanks to Derry’s EMS (emergency medical services) team.
Councilor David Fischer asked if Garone had proposed any cost-saving ideas to Stearns. Garone said he had not discussed further savings. “We cut our budget by $130,000 before we even met with Galen,” he said. “We reduced our operating budget, putting off some purchases, including needed technology improvements. We also reduced our overtime by $11,000. With the $25,000 Mr. Stearns added, we are reducing overtime by $36,000.”
Fischer asked, “Do you feel you had ample opportunity to express your interests and needs to Mr. Stearns?”
“We met six to eight times,” Garone responded. “I had the opportunity to tell him what I think the Police Department should have.”
He and the other department heads are “part of a team,” Garone said, and they worked together to try and get to where they needed to be.
Stearns’ working budget for police for 2016 is $8,474,503, an increase of $41,112 over last year’s approved $8,433,391.