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Manchester chief defends department's use of police-issued cell phones for personal calls

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 16. 2013 10:29PM

MANCHESTER - Manchester Police Chief David Mara and Assistant Chief Nick Willard explained to a city committee the regulations applying to officers using city-issued cellphones for personal calls, responding to an aldermanic inquiry on how much the city is reimbursed for such calls.

Mara and Willard faced only a handful of questions from members of the Information Systems Committee on Tuesday while reviewing a report from an assistant city solicitor sent to the committee members last week.

"We feel we really don't have an issue and there is no abuse," Mara said. "If we find anything — if we find any misuse or it's brought to our attention, we certainly will take action."   The issue arose during a trial of a Manchester police officer acquitted in May of assaulting his estranged wife. He testified about making private calls to women on his police-issued cell phone.

Willard said community officers that are issued phones pay nine cents per minute for personal calls that cost the department five cents per minute under its current cell plan.

"So if they make a personal phone call, they're actually paying four cents a minute and that's to offset some of the records costs," Willard said.

Reimbursement totals over the last three years top $4,000, with the final tallies for fiscal 2013 still to come.

Mara said it is in the city's best interest to issue officers phones instead of expecting them to carry one phone for work and another for personal use.

Mara and Willard were asked about requiring officers to answer all calls to the city phones, which Mara said would lead to collective bargaining issues with the police union. Off-duty officers are required to answer only while on-duty, then check voice mails they received between shifts when they are back on the clock. Forcing them to answer all calls — even when off the clock — would lead to heavy overtime expenses. Willard said.

Alderman Phil Greazzo, who chairs the committee, thanked Mara and Willard for their time before wrapping up the discussion.

"This is just for informational purposes so we don't need to take any action on that," Greazzo said.

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