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January 22. 2014 12:10AM

Manchester to hire 5 more officers

MANCHESTER — The police department will be hiring five additional officers in the coming weeks, a fraction of the number the city's police chief says are needed to deal with rising crime.

Mayor Ted Gatsas announced the plan at Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, following a presentation in which Police Chief David Mara outlined his request for additional officers.

Mara said, based on a recent workload assessment, that he believed the force needed 26 more officers in the patrol division and four more in the street crime unit, which consists of plainclothes officers who deal with quality of life issues.

At a projected cost of $84,000 per officer, for salary and benefits, funding the chief's maximum request would cost approximately $2.4 million.

The presentation marked the first time that Mara made his staffing request explicit since new numbers confirmed that crime has surged over the past year, increasing 24 percent in 2013 over the previous year, led by a 46 percent jump in robberies.

Gatsas and most of the aldermen at Tuesday's meeting were more concerned about how to pay for a smaller number of additional officers immediately than in dealing with Mara's maximum request, which likely could only be addressed through the budget process for the next fiscal year.

Gatsas' plan to fund the hiring of five additional officers, which he worked out with Mara, would involve leaving two supervisor positions vacant and suspending promotions during the current fiscal year. Those officers would most likely be experienced members of police forces in other communities. Mara plans to hire four other officers, but they are in training at the state police academy, and won't be ready to be sworn in for several months at least.

Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil said he wanted to see more officers as soon as possible. "I support more officers on the street, but I don't want to get into this feel-good thing where we're thinking we're getting more officers but it doesn't happen," he said.

In a detailed PowerPoint presentation, Mara told the aldermen that the strain caused by rising crime was being felt by his officers and the public. "Our officers are not getting what they want, and our residents are not getting what they want," Mara said, adding, "The stress on the officers, their workload, leads to fatigue and burnout."

He noted that someone calling about a low-level crime, such as car break-in, could face a wait of up to two hours.

Mara pointed out that calls for service increased 6 percent from 2012 to 2013, and 12 percent over the past decade.

Mara said the rise in crime is driven largely by drug addiction, and he noted that the city faces additional challenges.The number of registered sex offenders in the city, 517, rose 10 percent in 2013 from the previous year, Mara said. And there are more than 2,600 people on parole or probation from state or federal prison living in the city. Supervising these populations places an additional strain on the time of officers, Mara said.The additional officers would be placed in the patrol division, the largest and most visible in the city, with the goal of adding another vehicle patrol.

In an interview after the meeting, Mara acknowledged the aldermen didn't address his maximum request for officers, but he said he would do the best with what he was given.

"We're going to keep advocating for more police, but we also have to understand the budgetary constraints," he said. "But as the chief of police, my job is to inform aldermen and the public what the needs are."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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