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Police coverage paid for, Salisbury officials say in letter

If a neighboring police department responds to a call in Salisbury, the town is ready to pay the bill.

Salisbury selectmen wanted to make this point clear in a letter it sent to police chiefs and selectmen in Andover, Boscawen, Franklin and Webster. They drafted the letter, dated April 7, in response to one that circulated in Webster accusing Salisbury, which does not have a police department, of “freeloading” off the state police and neighboring towns.

“It has come to our attention that there is a letter being distributed around Webster that claims Salisbury has no police coverage and that Webster is supplying coverage to us at no charge,” wrote Ken Ross-Raymond, chairman of Salisbury’s selectmen. “We would like to correct this misunderstanding and make it known that Salisbury is not without police protection.” Salisbury officials are willing to meet with the police and selectmen in other towns to talk about police response issues, the letter said.

The state police have covered Salisbury since late 2010, when the town’s two part-time officers quit, citing a hostile work environment. The town doesn’t have financial agreements with other communities, and the state police respond to calls without additional payment. “If we want to hire them for a special detail then we would be billed for that, but now they are aware of our status and are in and out of town regularly,” Salisbury Town Administrator Margaret Warren said in an email.

Webster, which has mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns, is the only town to bill Salisbury for coverage in the last year. “They provided the breakdown of the service provided, and we paid the bill,” Warren said. Webster last billed Salisbury in August for less than $300.

Webster police Chief Robert Dupuis estimates his three-person department has responded to Salisbury four times in the past year. “We’ve been over there a few times. We have sent them bills for the time that our officers are there and the time it took them to do their repairs,” he said. “And Salisbury has been very good with paying it.”

The total amount Webster has billed Salisbury wasn’t immediately available, Dupuis said. The formula is based on a police detail rate that considers officer time, use of the cruiser and fuel.

The number of responses is low because the state police usually handle routine calls, Dupuis said. “If a Salisbury resident calls here first, we are referring them to the state police. I think there has been one incident I can recall when they could not respond so we went over to handle it,” he said.

Webster’s selectmen will discuss the letter at their next meeting, said Selectman Bruce Johnson.

When they resigned, Salisbury’s two officers were making a total of $58,000. For 2014, voters approved a $12,000 police budget, which covers dispatch, outside details and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, Warren said.

Since the department folded, police calls have decreased, from a monthly average of 54 in 2009 to 24 in both 2012 and 2013, according to town records. In March, the state police responded to 26 calls, from car crashes and abandoned vehicles to one burglary alarm and burglary. In February, there were eight calls for service, according to selectmen’s minutes.

In recent years, local policing has been an issue in both towns.

Last month, Salisbury residents voted 103-26 to kill a motion to reinstate $64,000 for the police department. Two years ago, a motion to eliminate the Webster Police Department was defeated. In 2013, a move to cut Webster’s public safety budget was defeated.

To avoid potential cuts at this year’s town meeting, a group of Webster residents signed a petition in support of the police department. Harold Janeway, who signed the petition, said the letter wasn’t meant to attack Salisbury. “Our intention in writing the letter was to head off the possibility of there being another attempt to take funding away from the Webster Police Department,” Janeway said. The document circulated before the town meeting, where no motion was made to cut Webster’s police budget.

The letter alleged longer response times have kept Salisbury residents from calling the police, resulting in a dip in calls.

It also read, in part, “Some (Salisbury residents) are also embarrassed by the reputation Salisbury has for freeloading off the state police and neighboring towns.”

Weeks after Salisbury’s town meeting, Janeway said he received a copy of the original Webster petition in the mail. The anonymous sender didn’t include a note but highlighted an excerpt about Salisbury residents being “fed up” with not having a police department.

“At first I was totally puzzled. Then I saw the highlighting and what was attached,” he said. “It was clear they were tweaking us.”

Salisbury’s situation hasn’t burdened Webster, said Dupuis, who said he supported towns having local departments. “I can just imagine 10 other towns in the county said they were doing the same thing,” he said. “The state police’s main responsibility is the interstate. It’s just not a good idea to not have a local presence.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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