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Council approves crimefighting grant after change in strategy

State House Bureau

February 07. 2018 11:05PM
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard and Department of Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes confer before Willard's presentation to the Executive Council on a Safe Neighborhoods grant. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — The Executive Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a $200,000 federal Safe Neighborhoods grant to help police fight violent gun and gang crime in Manchester and other cities.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice was held up for more than a month as three Republicans on the five-member council, led by David Wheeler of Milford, expressed concerns about what Wheeler called “an anti-gun focus” in the grant application.

Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard and the author of the grant application, detective Matthew Barter, assured councilors that changes have been made in how the grant money will be spent to address their concerns.

As originally submitted, the grant money would be used to beef up “hot spot patrols” in areas with a high level of gang and drug-related activity, to research and follow-up on denials of gun purchases, and to conduct ballistic tests on confiscated guns with the data going into a national registry.

Wheeler met with Willard last week to discuss the grant, and appears to have succeeded in getting the terms changed.

Willard told the council the grant money will now be used almost entirely for hot spot patrols.

“The framework of the grant remains the same,” said Barter. “The difference we discussed was transferring money from investigation of gun purchase denials and bringing that into hot spot patrols.”

Willard told the council he was happy with the change.

“I actually think the repurposing is more effective,” he said. “I’m a data-driven chief. For me to have more officers on the ground doing hot spot patrols, dealing with gun crime issues, is more effective.”

Barter also confirmed that state and local police would not be deputized as agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as the original grant suggested.

Ballistic tests with results going into a national database will only be conducted on guns directly linked to a criminal investigation.

Gun purchase denials will still be monitored by federal authorities, “so there is no hole there,” said Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester, who had expressed frustration over the delay in releasing the grant.

About $80,000 will go to Manchester, $30,000 to the state police and $40,000 to Southern New Hampshire University for statistical analysis and a report on the efficiency of the hot spot patrols. The balance will be used in other communities.

“We’ve had to redirect these Safe Neighborhoods grants in the past,” said Wheeler after the meeting. “In the recent past we conditioned the grant to use NRA educational standards rather than an anti-gun group’s materials. Today we were successful in redirecting this grant to just focus on crime guns and getting the criminals off the street.”

Gov. Chris Sununu was comfortable with the outcome.

“I think this is a good contract, and I’m glad the council moved forward,” he said. “It helps stop gun violence and get illegal guns off the streets. It puts the emphasis on the health and safety of the Manchester community in particular, which sees a lot of gun violence.”

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