IN RESPONSE to an uptick in violent crime in the Queen City, and as a way to reduce overtime costs and the stress of double shifts, Mayor Joyce Craig will ask city aldermen this week to authorize the Manchester Police Department to hire up to five officers above the currently approved complement of 237 sworn patrolmen.

“Over the last three years, the Manchester Police Department saw an average police complement lower than the approved number, primarily due to vacancies as a result of retirements, health-related leave and military leave,” said Craig. “The concept of authorizing the police department to hire above the approved complement has been a topic of discussion for many years. With increasing call volume, increasing overtime and the spike in violent crime we’ve seen this summer, Chief (Carlo) Capano and I worked together to put more officers on the street with little-to-no impact on the city budget.”

In a memo to Ward 1 Alderman and state Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, chairman of the Aldermanic Committee on Human Resources and Insurance, Craig writes that modern approaches to fighting crime, including utilizing predictive policing methods and hot spot patrols, have led to a four-year downward trend in the city’s crime rate.

“Despite the downward trend in the crime rate, the number of calls for service has continued to increase, which requires an increase in staff time to address these calls for service,” Craig said.

Craig writes Manchester police have operated under a cap of 237 officers since 2014, but due to a number of individuals out on military leave, health-related leave, retirements or resignations, the department has averaged an active complement of 230 the last three years.

“MPD leadership has done an admirable job ensuring that police coverage is maintained despite these vacancies, but this has forced the MPD to increase mandatory overtime for our officers,” writes Craig.

According to the mayor, last fiscal year city police overspent their overtime line by roughly $390,000. The increase was covered by underspending on the regular salary line, helped largely due to vacancies.

“While this is sound budgetary management, the result is more work spread among less officers and more stress on our police force,” writes Craig in the memo.

According to Craig, in FY19, despite the required increase in overtime spending, city police maintained an expenditure surplus of approximately $348,000. Based on MPD calculations, the cost of this proposal for FY20 would be approximately $172,000 in regular salary, plus an additional $26,000 to outfit the officers with uniforms and weapons for a total of $198,000.

“Chief Capano believes that this cost could be managed within their existing budget even if overtime spending is similar to FY19 levels,” Craig told aldermen. “Finance Officer Bill Sanders has also reviewed this proposal and agreed that the costs of this proposal could be absorbed within the FY20 budget.”

Craig said if police expenditure projections show they will exceed the approved FY20 budget as a result of this hiring practice, she’s asking the board to authorize a transfer from contingency to cover any overage at the end of the fiscal year.

Manchester’s crime rate has declined over the past few years, but the number of violent crimes has escalated recently. Two people have been killed and two injured in three unrelated shootings, including:

Brian “Boogie’’ Clark, 19, of Manchester, who died of a gunshot wound to the chest on July 3 after being shot and dropped off outside Elliot at River’s Edge Urgent Care.

Mariela Maria, 42, who was shot on July 10 by an unknown assailant as she stepped outside her Ahern Street home.

Jason Barry, 42, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head in an alley behind 874 Union St. on July 19.

Grant award

School officials learned last week the Manchester School District has received a $500,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to support the implementation of a redesigned school model for Manchester High School West.

The funds will allow West to implement several key initiatives such as providing staff development on culturally responsive classroom teaching; launching the Leader in Me curriculum; beginning the transition to competency-based learning; and offering students additional learning opportunities.

“The West High School Redesign is student-centered, and I am excited about the next phase. West is working towards making the school the hub of the community,” said Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt.

“West High educators, administration and students have worked extremely hard over the past few years to improve student-centered learning opportunities and have yielded some great results,” said Amy Allen, assistant superintendent of schools.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students and educators at West High School,” said Craig. “I’m grateful for the Barr Foundation’s continued investment in our community. As a result of this $500,000 grant, educators will have the opportunity to build upon the successes they’ve achieved in the last three years, and continue to develop programming to help our students succeed during and after high school.”

“This grant will give students the chance to have more initiative within our school,” said West senior Kimiya Parker-Hill. “These opportunities will encourage some students to want to come to school rather than feel forced to come to school. With the support of our staff and community partners, we will be able to build a better school culture.”

City Hall art

Monday kicks off the 14th annual Art on the Wall at City Hall show, where city employees and their families showcase their artistic talents.

“Every year, we receive impressive submissions for Art on the Wall at City Hall, and this year is no different,” said Craig. “I love seeing the talent showcased in the pieces submitted by Manchester city and school district employees, and their families, and encourage everyone to stop by City Hall to see the show.”

The exhibition will run at City Hall from Monday, Aug. 5, to Friday, Sept. 27. The public is invited to view the show Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday until 8 p.m., and to vote for the People’s Choice Award by the information desk on the first floor.

“The Manchester Arts Commission is a proud partner for Art on the Wall at City Hall,” said Ed Doyle, chairman of the Manchester Arts Commission. “By engaging local artists, we can continue to highlight the positive role the arts have in Manchester.”

The works of art are divided into three adult categories: amateur, intermediate and professional. Two youth categories are also featured: 12 and younger, and teens. The first-, second- and third-place winners in each of the categories will receive a cash prize. Prizes will also be awarded in the Mayor’s Choice and People’s Choice categories.

The winners will be chosen by an independent panel of judges and announced on Monday, Aug. 19.

A reception will be held on the main floor of City Hall at 5 p.m., with the awards ceremony in the aldermanic chamber at 5:30 p.m.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.