Police Chief Ed Garone presented his 43rd budget to the Derry governing body on April 12, in a world vastly changed from that surrounding his first ones.
The world Garone works in now includes a heroin epidemic and the ripple effects of burglary, shoplifting and more domestic violence.
Garone is requesting a budget of $9,567,323 for 2017. The budget recommended by Acting Town Administrator Stephen Daly is $9,564,803.
Highlights of Daly’s budget include:
- Personnel, $8,239,478;
- Capital Expenses, $652,530;
- Operations and Maintenance, $520,985; and
- Debt Service, $159,384. The net of the expenses is $8,520,143, but with projected revenues of $1,044,660 included it is $9,564,803.
The department lost four positions in the last budget cycle, which were reinstated after the Special Election in October. Councilor Joshua Bourdon asked Garone if he had trouble filling the positions and how long it took to get an officer on the street.
Garone turned the question over to his training officer, Capt. George Feole, who said four people were hired April 12, but will be at the Police Academy from May 2 until mid-August. The department has one new officer currently in the Academy, and two positions unfilled. “These are all holdovers from the last fiscal year,” Feole said.
Also, he said, the department is anticipating two retirements. There are also some vacancies on the civilian side, including a receptionist, dispatcher and evidence technician, he said.
After the entry exam is given, Garone said, it’s usually two or three months before they hire someone. The person hired attends the Academy for 14 weeks and then spends 12 weeks with a Field Training Officer, learning the ins and outs of policing Derry. After that he or she is given a probationary officer evaluation, and if found suitable, then the new hire can go out on his or her own, Garone said
“But to get any real productivity from a hiring, it takes eight to nine months,” he said. Feole estimated that the new hires now in the Academy would be on the streets, working independently, by November.
Garone said the culture has changed since he entered police work. When they were first authorized to fill the vacancies in October, they had trouble finding qualified candidates. But that has picked up, he said, and “I am pleased with the quality of candidates we have now.”
Councilor David Fischer quizzed Garone on the salary line, including a “merit raise.” Upon questioning from Fischer, Garone said his salary this year is listed as $118,518, the same as last year, and noted, “I did not receive a pay raise.”
Fischer pointed to a “merit raise” of approximately $5,000 and reminded Garone that in May 2014, the then-Council gave a clear direction to staff not to approve raises. Garone said the $5,000 wasn’t a “raise” in the traditional sense of “It goes into your pay and stays there. It’s not a cost-of-living raise.”
Acting Town Administrator Stephen Daly added, “It’s a once a year bonus. It does not add to their annual compensation.”
“It’s still money,” Fischer responded.
“This is the budget for 2017,” Chairman Brian Chirichiello told Fischer. “This board will act as a board.”
Fischer said he wanted all salaries, benefits, earned time and projected overtime listed in columns and provided for the public on the overhead projector. “I want it to be displayed for the people of the community to see,” he said.
“We will talk about it for a future agenda,” Chirichiello said. “It will be some time during budget season.”
Fischer asked Garone to come up with an “average total pay, salary and benefits” for his department and Councilor James Morgan used a calculator to report $117,142.87.
“How many of your employees make over $100,000?” Fischer questioned.
“If you use that math, they all do,” Garone responded.
Fischer also questioned step increases, noting that in 2016 officers received a total of $16,672 in step increases, averaging out to $2,374. “Does the public know about this?” Fischer asked.
He asked Daly if they were looking at a similar figure for 2017 and Daly said, “If none of the circumstances change. Some of them may have reached the top step.”
Overtime also came under the Council microscope. The department has 56 sworn officers and Garone said the national standard is 1.9 per 1,000 residents, which would make Derry’s goal 63.
Morgan said the projected overtime is $748,130 and asked Garone, “If you have 63 sworn officers, how much would that go down?”
Garone said 80 percent of overtime is in “coverage” for other officers who are ill or on vacation. Having 63 officers could make OT go down as much as 40 to 50 percent, he said. He didn’t have a solid number for the 1.9 per 1,000 model, and Morgan asked him to have one for next year.
“Why wouldn’t we want to have the extra people?” Morgan asked.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon asked how the opioid epidemic is affecting Derry. Garone said in 2014 the department saw 14 overdoses and six deaths from Jan. 1 to March 31. In 2015 there were 38 overdoses and three deaths. So far in 2016 there have been 29 overdoses and five deaths, he said.
“There is no particular pattern,” Garone said.
He didn’t credit the availability of Narcan for the drop in deaths, noting that “We have had Narcan for a long time.
“This is a dark, secret type of situation,” Garone said. “Most often when we see addicts, it’s due to an overdose.”
Bourdon asked if drug-related crimes were on the rise, and Garone said other factors were involved. “For example, when gold prices went up, burglaries skyrocketed,” he said. But many crimes can be traced to the prevalence and availability of heroin, he added.
Councilor Charles Foote asked if Derry officers used Narcan. Garone said his people were trained and certified in the use of Narcan, but they did not carry it. “When we get these calls, fire and police arrive at nearly the same time,” he explained. “The police go in first and secure the scene.” But fire follows right after, so it’s not necessary for his officers to administer Narcan, he said. It’s more necessary in a rural community, with smaller departments, he said.
“I am surprised the police don’t carry it,” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said. “What if an officer is patrolling at night, and comes upon someone overdosed in their car?”
Garone said there were logistical concerns to carrying Narcan. “You can’t let it freeze, you can’t let it get over a certain temperature,” he said.
Chirichiello asked Garone if his staff was undergoing extra training for drug calls. Garone said he had just been to a meeting with the state Attorney General regarding more training for dealing with overdoses.
He turned the microphone over to Capt. Vern Thomas, who said, “We respond to overdoses with a patrol officer first, and treat it as a medical call. Once we’ve made the determination, we start to investigate what the drug is, where it came from.”
But he added that the department is not getting cooperation from the drug user’s friends and family. “All the work is on us,” he observed. “People are very tight-lipped.”
Thomas detailed the procedure for dealing with used syringes, which has increased over four or five years. “”People call us when they find them on the bike path, downtown, in the Hood Commons parking lot,” he said. The officers go to pick up the syringes so the civilians don’t have to handle them, he said.
Bourdon urged Garone to reconsider having his officers carry Narcan. But Fischer responded, “It’s their job. Let them decide.”
Fischer quizzed Garone about personal use of vehicles. Garone said only three staff members – he, Thomas and Feole – had the use of staff cars. Thomas needs one because he is frequently called out at night for serious crimes, and Feole is captain of the regional SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team and often called out after hours.
Garone emphasized that neither he nor the two captains use the vehicles for personal use.
Morgan asked Garone if there was anything else he needed for long-range planning. Garone said his facility, built in 1984 and updated over the years, is still adequate. “We take great pride in our building,” he said. “If we get to 1.9 per 1,000, it will still be adequate.”
Outside of increasing personnel, he said, “I’d like to be able to look into the body cams.”
In addition, the Council also reviewed the Animal Control budget, which is under Garone’s supervision and projected at $80,601.