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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Doing right by part-time officers

Telegraph Editorial

A lot of important people said a lot of nice things about police officer Stephen Arkell after he was shot and killed in the line of duty on May 12 while responding to a domestic disturbance in a quiet residential section of Brentwood.

Judging from the descriptions of those who knew him, the 48-year-old father of two teenage daughters was a wonderful man, in and out of uniform. He coached the Exeter High School girls lacrosse team, was a fixture in Brentwood as the town’s animal control officer, and was a well-liked member of the police force, usually working one shift a week as a part-timer. ...

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A lot of important people said a lot of nice things about police officer Stephen Arkell after he was shot and killed in the line of duty on May 12 while responding to a domestic disturbance in a quiet residential section of Brentwood.

Judging from the descriptions of those who knew him, the 48-year-old father of two teenage daughters was a wonderful man, in and out of uniform. He coached the Exeter High School girls lacrosse team, was a fixture in Brentwood as the town’s animal control officer, and was a well-liked member of the police force, usually working one shift a week as a part-timer.

His loss reminds us that we’re still a fairly small state, because his death has been mourned from Pittsburg to Nashua and from Portsmouth to Hinsdale.

The prayers of many have gone out to the Arkell family since the tragedy. We were especially impressed by those members of the Exeter Police Department who took to the streets last week and collected donations for officer Arkell’s wife and two daughters. Bless those officers who took up the collection to support their brother’s family, and those donors who opened their hearts and their wallets. Most of all, we wish blessings on those Stephen Arkell left behind.

That scene in Exeter was touching, but it was also one we think shouldn’t be necessary, and it may not have been if Arkell had been a full-time officer.

The spouse of a full-time cop killed on the job is eligible to receive payments for life equal to 50 percent of the officer’s final annual salary, according to Marty Karlon of the New Hampshire Retirement System. They also receive a lump-sum payment of whatever the deceased paid into the system over the years.

Families of part-time police officers killed in the line of duty get no such consideration, and we think they should.

Officer Arkell’s family is eligible to receive a $100,000 payment under the law that was enacted following the death of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs, but that somehow doesn’t seem quite adequate.

While the words offered by the important people who spoke about the Brentwood tragedy may have provided a degree of comfort, we’d like to hear some of those same people say publicly that they would support legislation to give families of part-time officers killed by violence in the line of duty a level of ongoing benefits comparable to what the families of full-
timers receive in such cases.

We would, for instance, back a bill to give surviving spouses an annual payment equal to a percentage of what an average patrol officer makes in the state. Same thing for for part-time firefighters killed actively fighting fires.

There are more than 1,100 certified part-time police officers in the state, according to the New Hampshire State Police Standards and Training Council, which runs the Concord-based police academy. A lot of those are spread throughout the tiny towns and hamlets that dot the state’s most rural areas. The nature of the work is that nobody ever really knows when, or from where, the next tragedy is coming, and bullets and madmen don’t make the distinction between full- and part-time officers. In an instance like this, we shouldn’t either.

Tragedies that fit the precise circumstances of the one in Brentwood are rare – Officer Arkell is the only part-time officer we could find who was shot to death in the state in the past 10 years. But we believe when the unthinkable befalls those good cops, we can do better than to stand on a street corner.