Concord City Council increases police funding by nearly $1 million in unanimous approval of $106 million budget 

  • Concord City Hall

  • GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 6/16/2020 4:18:17 PM

Concord City Council passed Monday a $106 million budget after officials defended increased funding for the police department amid national calls for reform and a new approach to public safety.

The approved budget includes a $956,307 increase for the Concord Police Department from the city’s expected expenses for the department this year. In all, the city is projected to spend $28,051,162 in fiscal year 2021 on public safety, which includes police, fire and EMS services.

City Manager Tom Aspell said the bulk of the additional police funding is to boost officers’ base pay, which will help ensure that Concord attracts and retains high-quality people and doesn’t lose them to more competitive markets elsewhere in the state or in Massachusetts. On top of the base pay increases, officers are due 2.75% raises each of the next three years.

After losing veteran officers to retirement, the department is now staffed by many relatively young officers with five years or less of on-the-job experience, Aspell said. In the past, there was greater opportunity for veteran officers to mentor and teach new recruits but the current makeup of the department makes that more difficult. As a result, Chief Brad Osgood requested in January the addition of a third deputy chief position to oversee in-service training of department personnel and recruitment of new officers.

By comparison, the Concord Fire Department was flat-funded.

While the 2021 budget received unanimous approval from councilors, Mayor Jim Bouley stressed that it isn’t set in stone and will likely be subject to changes after the city gets a clearer picture of revenues later this summer and again in the fall due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

“This will be much more of a working document than it ever has before,” Bouley said.

The budget includes $68.4 million in spending from the city’s general fund, which is a $1.4 million increase over this year’s anticipated general fund expenses. However, the city cut back its capital projects from $16 million in 2020 to $10 million in 2021, which resulted in a spending plan that does not include a tax increase. Including capital projects, total spending is expected to decrease $2.7 million from the current budget.

At the start of the public hearing on the budget Monday, longtime Concord resident Rachel Venator spoke in opposition to the increased funding for the police department in the wake of national unrest.

“The police department is currently understaffed and looking to fill positions,” said Venator, who lives in Ward 10. “However, I believe that those positions should be left vacant as the police system in the United States is an inherently racist system … though in Concord, we have better regulations on use of force than in other places.”

She said that New Hampshire may think it is immune to the problems facing the rest of the country but it is not, and elected officials must respond accordingly. She advocated for a review of the current hiring process, which she said concerns her because it focuses efforts on recruiting and hiring in a shorter time frame.

“Knowing this information and knowing the current context and knowing that we have a review of police department policies on June 29, it really seems irresponsible to me to continue to allow the funding that will allow for these streamlined hirings at a time when the very practices of the police are under question,” Venator said.

At the request of the council, Osgood responded to Venator’s concerns about the revamped hiring process which he said was misconstrued. He said the process is streamlined because the department is reaching out to candidates as they apply and bringing them in for interviews, as well as written and physical agility tests as soon as possible, rather than scheduling a random day in May, for example, when 200 prospective recruits may show up and do those tests all at the same time.

He emphasized that the police department has not lowered its standards simply to full positions. The department currently has 12 vacancies.

Councilors noted at the closure of Monday’s public hearing that they had received emails from other community members consistent with Venator’s remarks, calling for a reduction of the police budget. Ward Four Councilor Meredith Hatfield said there were several inaccuracies about the scope of the increase to the police department budget, which one person projected to be over $1 million, and about the number of new positions. She reiterated that just the one deputy chief position was added.

In addition to traditional emails, the city received 50 identical emails from people who used a form available on defund12.org to call for reallocation of police department funding to education, social services and dismantling racial injustice. Bouley said about 22 about the emails were from Concord residents and that they will be part of the public record.

As an aside from the budget process, councilors discussed the police department’s current use-of-force policy and about the importance of community policing initiatives.

“I’m wondering what initiatives the police department may be taking in looking at their protocols and procedures regarding their use of force regarding Black Lives Matter interests in our country,” asked Ward Six Councilor Linda Kenison.

Osgood highlighted for the council various initiatives the department has taken part in over the last few years, with a focus on building relationships in the city’s New American community. Those efforts date back to 2011 when a man used a permanent black marker to deface the homes of three African refugee families.

He said the department is also reviewing each of its policies and, in recent days, published its use-of-force policy on the city’s website. Discussions are ongoing with the city attorney whether other policies will be publicly posted there, too.

“I think it might be advantageous for the city and the police department to communicate what our trainings and protocols are and, frankly, what they’re not,” said Ward Five Councilor Robert Werner.

The city’s Public Safety Advisory Board will provide a platform for those conversations on June 29 at 3 p.m. At-Large Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, who is chairwoman of the committee, said there will be a detailed review of the police department’s use-of-force policy, which members of the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on. The fire and police departments will also submit their annual reports.


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