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Merrimack chief makes plea for new police drug unit to combat 'meth heaven' reputation

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

January 11. 2018 1:58PM
Chief Denise Roy ... “It is not working” 



MERRIMACK — The town’s new police chief says Merrimack is facing an unprecedented drug problem, with a confidential informant referring to the community as “meth heaven” because the local police force does not have enough resources to focus on drug activity.

“We are putting a Band-Aid on it, but it is not working ... We are becoming that town that we never wanted to be,” Chief Denise Roy said of the Merrimack Police Department. “What you see on TV, it is here — it is in Merrimack.”

She is proposing that a special investigation unit be formed within the police department to focus solely on drug crimes, similar to units already in place in Manchester and Nashua.

“They know that we are very strained at the police department here; it is not a secret. We have always been able to maintain a very safe community, however we are finding ourselves now in a tremendous crisis,” Roy told town officials this week.

The proposal, which would cost more than $160,000, will be considered as councilors debate the town’s proposed budget in the coming weeks.

Authorities said the increased police presence at hotels in Manchester has sent some criminals to Merrimack, with drug deals becoming a problem at local hotels and elsewhere in town.

“We are in a very, very difficult position and dangerous position. If we do not stop the blood flow and we do not stop ourselves from being picked out as the place to be for drugs in New Hampshire, we are going to be the place for drugs in New Hampshire,” Town Manager Eileen Cabanel told town councilors.

“We are not going to let our town become the drug capital,” Cabanel said.

Roy agreed something must be done to stop the crisis now, not in July when a new budget cycle begins.

Hotel drug activity

The Residences at Daniel Webster had 63 emergency calls for service in 2015 compared to 163 calls for service in 2017, according to Roy. The extended stay WoodSpring Suites Hotel that opened last summer has had 58 emergency calls since opening, she said.

A couple was arrested there on Christmas Day after police discovered 29 grams of methamphetamine and a significant amount of cash in a hotel room.

Roy is suggesting that a sergeant and a patrolman be hired to serve on the new unit.

She shared recent stories about criminal activity at the hotels, including an armed kidnapping last year; a large-scale drug investigation in which products from Arizona were being stored and sold in Merrimack; an arson at one of the establishments; and arrests involving large amounts of methamphetamine.

“Over the last approximately six months to a year the town has seen a significant, or actually I would call it a tremendous increase in our drug activity,” said Roy. “... This is a crisis for us. We can only do so much.”

Roy said she is not blaming the hotels. All four are working with law enforcement officials to crack down on drug crimes, she said.

Recently, the police department pulled two officers from their normal patrols to focus primarily on drug activity, which resulted in 33 arrests in three months. When those officers were returned to the patrol unit, however, there was once again an uptick in drug crimes, Roy said.

Councilor Finlay Rothhaus said Merrimack is not alone, adding other communities must be dealing with similar issues.

While there are drug problems throughout the state, Roy said she has never experienced this magnitude in the past 27 years in Merrimack.

Councilor Peter Albert, a former member of the Merrimack Police Department, said police visibility is essential. Albert said he supports the proposed creation of a special investigation unit as long as its two members are focused only on drug crimes and are not used to fill voids in the patrol unit.

The need is too great to have them assigned elsewhere, Roy said.

khoughton@newstote.com


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