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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lyndeborough’s police asked to cut patrol hours

LYNDEBOROUGH – Town and police officials debated overlap in the Police Department’s coverage Wednesday night after the Board of Selectmen asked the department to cut several hours a week.

Police Sgt. Paul Roy said Wednesday that the department received a memo from the board last week asking it to limit payroll patrol hours to 136 a week, including 16 a day, and 24 additional administrative hours a week. The changes are slated to take effect May 1.

That directive would cut several hours from the Police Department’s schedule, which currently pays for more than 140 hours of manpower each week, the board said.

The goal of the change is to cut down on overlapping coverage within the department, when a few officers are working at the same time, and help deal with budget constraints.

“There is an amount of overlap during the middle of the day,” board Chairman Arnold Byam said. “We’re looking to get that spread out. We’ve talked about it for many months, and that’s what we’d like to see happen.”

Roy said the department isn’t having budget issues, however, and said he believes the directive is retaliation for recent issues between the department and the selectmen.

Police Department issues came up in the minutes of a March 21 nonpublic selectmen’s meeting that show a disagreement between two board members and Capt. Thomas Burke, the town’s officer in charge. Burke called the officer-in-charge system “dysfunctional” and “not in compliance with state law.”

The town has had this system – instead of having a police chief in charge of the department – since a vote at Town Meeting in 2008.

According to the March 21 minutes, Burke’s comments came as he and two selectmen discussed the possible resignation of one of the department’s officers.

Selectmen suggested Burke delay letting the man go. Burke was adamant that the officer shouldn’t be employed with the department, saying the officer is inappropriately communicating with someone on the board.

Burke also expressed unhappiness with the way board members were dealing with him throughout the situation.

Issues involving the Police Department also are reportedly being looked into by the state Attorney General’s Office. While Town Administrator Burton Reynolds confirmed last week that the department is at least part of an investigation, he said he couldn’t comment on specifics.

The Attorney General’s Office wouldn’t comment on whether it was conducting an investigation in the town.

On Wednesday, Roy said he believes the requested changes to the police schedules are a result of these recent issues, saying the board supported the scheduling plans earlier this year when Burke presented them.

Board members denied allegations of retaliation Wednesday night.

Still, Roy said having some overlap helps provide better coverage for residents and can save the town money because officers can take time off for training or other reasons without having to call someone to cover the position.

Even with the overlap, he said, the department has been operating under budget. With about 25 percent of the year passed, Roy said, the department has spent only 20 percent of its budget.

“The townspeople have become used to the schedule and are very supportive of the schedule,” Roy said Wednesday. “We’ve been able to provide additional preventative patrols, and this year, there has not been one reported burglary in the town of Lyndeborough. That’s something surrounding towns can’t say.”

To get rid of the overlap in the department’s schedules, he said, would hurt this coverage and the town.

“It would not be in the best interest of the town, which is how the Board of Selectmen should be operating,” he said.

Selectmen said Wednesday, however, that they’re looking out for the town, adding that while the Police Department may be operating under budget, it doesn’t mean there won’t be budget issues in the future.

In fact, said board member Kevin Boette, some areas of the Police Department budget were low this past year.

The budget for cruiser maintenance, he said, had to be increased by $2,000 to ensure there would be sufficient funding for potential vehicle issues.

Byam said that the board has a good vantage point of what kind of costs may come down the line for the department.

And while Roy said he was concerned the department’s coverage would suffer with the cuts, board members disagreed.

“It’s not a drastic change,” Boette said. “It’s less than eight hours a week, so why not put a little bit of money into the bank?”

Board members also said they’re trying to save money, not micromanage.

“We’re not trying to tell you how to make your schedule,” Boette said.

Roy answered, “That’s exactly what you’re doing.”

Although a number of residents were in attendance Wednesday night, no public comment was accepted, as it was a work session.

Still, resident Brendan Philbrick shared his thoughts on the scheduling debate with the board through a letter.

In the letter, Philbrick agrees with Roy, saying the request to cut hours from the Police Department payroll looks “like a punitive measure to the Police Department.”

Philbrick said he believes the changes are coming as a result of issues between the board and the Police Department, including what he called “meddling” in police business by board member Don Sawin, who was a part-time Lyndeborough police officer until he took a leave of absence to serve on the board. Sawin didn’t participate in the meeting Wednesday.

“We have an exemplary force of seasoned veterans with impeccable records,” Philbrick wrote of the Police Department. “The townsfolk are happy and satisfied with the professional force assembled … don’t mess with a good thing out of spite.”

The board said that while the scheduling change must be made beginning May 1, the discussion hasn’t ended.

The budget situation can be monitored as the year progresses, Boette said, and the idea of adding some overlapping coverage back into the schedule could be discussed.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).