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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In budget request, Nashua police chief tells committee 2014 drug overdoses already surpass 2013

NASHUA – With drug overdoses surging in Nashua this year, city officials are deliberating whether to hire more police officers to combat drug crime.

Nashua police logged 48 drug overdoses in 2013. That number already has been surpassed this year, according to Nashua police Chief John Seusing, who said Monday that heroin use is driving the uptick. ...

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NASHUA – With drug overdoses surging in Nashua this year, city officials are deliberating whether to hire more police officers to combat drug crime.

Nashua police logged 48 drug overdoses in 2013. That number already has been surpassed this year, according to Nashua police Chief John Seusing, who said Monday that heroin use is driving the uptick.

“If I had more detectives in my drug unit, I absolutely
believe that we would be able to make an impact in the drug dealing that’s going on in this city,” Seusing told members of the aldermanic Budget Review Committee.

The drug unit, also known as the Narcotics and Intelligence Division, is made up of a lieutenant, sergeant and several undercover detectives. Members gather information about drug activity in the city and serve in regional drug task forces.

The drug unit is funded in part by seizures of cash and property from suspected drug dealers. But manpower also is tied to funding in the annual city budget.

During a meeting Monday night, Seusing asked city aldermen to consider increasing the police department’s budget to support hiring more officers. He said any additional funds would go first to increasing the size of the drug unit.

The vast majority of crimes in Nashua stem from drug use, Seusing said, and although police have made significant busts – including arrests last week that netted half a pound of heroin – officers assigned to the drug unit have more leads coming in than they can process.

“My fear … is letting it slip away from us, because once this issue slips away from us, it’s going to be very difficult to get it back,” Seusing said.

Aldermen are considering the police department budget this month as part of their annual review of funding for all city departments.

Seusing’s budget proposal for the police department came in at about $26.6 million, an increase of nearly $840,000 from the current year. Mayor Donnalee Lozeau cut $70,000 from the bottom line before handing the police budget off to the Board of Aldermen last month.

Seusing said he would cope with the $70,000 reduction by allowing two staff positions to go unfilled. One is the job of systems support specialist, an information technology position that carries a salary of about $51,000; the other is a part-time file clerk position, which pays about $14,000.

Both jobs are vacant, and will likely stay that way regardless of whether the Board of Aldermen reverse the mayor’s decision, Seusing said.

However, the police chief is asking city officials to consider restoring the money in the budget and using it to increase the number of uniformed officers. Seusing said he believes restoring $70,000 to the budget would allow him to hire two new officers and shift two more experienced officers to the drug unit.

New hires would help the police department begin to make headway on the staffing recommendations laid out in the workload assessment earlier this year. The study called for adding three officers in the patrol bureau.

On top of that, the chief has proposed funding three drug unit positions and adding another officer to the Problem Oriented Policing Unit.

None of those recommendations was incorporated into the police chief’s budget for fiscal 2015, which freezes staffing at the current level. It’s now up to the Board of Aldermen to decide whether to provide additional funds to grow the police force. The Nashua Police Commission recently voted to increase the number of sworn officers in the city from 179 to 185, allowing room for city officials to fund more positions if they choose.

Some on the Board of Aldermen appeared ready Monday to support a staffing increase. Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess said the city should make it a priority to develop a reputation as a place where it’s hard to deal heroin. Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel said he sees a clear need for more manpower, especially given the fact that intelligence is going unused.

“That almost is more painful than the actual lack of additional officers,” he said.

Ward 5 Alderman Michael Soucy, a former city police officer, recalled his experience fighting crime when crack cocaine hit the streets in the 1990s. Soucy said it was the first time he encountered street prostitution in the area, fueled by drug use.

“When people move to a community, they look at the schools. They look at public safety. They look at police. We should not be cutting them short,” he said.

The Budget Review Committee will continue to hear from city staff for the next several weeks before making budget recommendations to the full Board of Aldermen.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).