Bump in calls following pandemic used to justify increase funding for Concord fire and police

  • Concord Fire Department responses to an attic fire on Broadway in Concord on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz


Monitor staff
Published: 5/27/2022 2:43:24 PM

Emergency calls for service are up this year, which will require significant new investments in public safety, Concord City Councilors were told on Thursday in one of the first meetings to determine next year’s city budget. 

What councilors weren’t told is total calls for service are still below what they were 10 years ago and police calls are still lower than they were each year between 2013 and 2016.  

The proposed $123.6 million budget includes more funding for the Concord Police and Fire Departments, which together receive 60% of taxes. The fire department’s expenses are up 8.4% this year, while the police department’s expenses are up 4.5%.

The Concord Fire Department is estimating that its calls for service will reach 10,000 this year, requiring funding for a fourth ambulance. Four additional paramedics are needed to staff the new ambulance, which would be purchased with capital funds.

The new ambulance crew and other investments in fire department staff will add 2.45% to the tax rate.

As soon as four new paramedics are hired and trained, which Interim Fire Chief John Chisholm estimated could happen by September or October, one of the department’s two reserve ambulances could be brought back into frontline use while the department waits for a new ambulance to be delivered, which could take 12 to 18 months.

In March, Concord Fire moved one ambulance from the Manor Station to the Central Fire Station to better respond to higher call volumes in other parts of the city.

Chisholm said Thursday that change allowed Concord Fire to meet industry standards, which call for a basic life support crew on scene within five minutes and an advanced life support team within nine minutes. The exception is some of the areas served by Manor Station, which have seen longer average response times for ambulances.

Residents spoke up in favor of adding the fourth ambulance, including Christine Miller, who said she wanted an ambulance returned to the Manor Station.

Estimated calls for service for the police department this year are 53,080, according to the budget, which would be an increase of 17% over 2021. Police calls for service have not reached that level since 2016, when the department received 53,216 calls. Even at this year’s elevated level, calls for service are 11% lower than they were in 2015 when the department received 58,181 calls.

“This budget puts additional emphasis on public safety, and support for resources, especially investigations of crime against the city’s most vulnerable populations and continued support for non-lethal options for dealing with offenders,” City Manager Tom Aspell said. Some of those extra resources include $33,000 for a taser program, $16,600 in computer crimes software licensing and $16,000 for a Motorola service agreement.

Ward 3 Councilor Jennifer Kretovic asked Aspell why he had not included the Concord Police Department’s request for four additional police officers in his recommended budget.

“It’s been a relatively recent situation that we’ve actually been very close to full staffing. I’d like to see how that works first before we add any additional staff,” Aspell said. He said that because the city is adding four paramedics, the community is already being asked to take on a higher tax rate.

“We still have the same number of officers on the street as when you started your career here,” Mayor Jim Bouley said to Chief Brad Osgood, who started at the department in 1989. “What would it mean to the department to have additional officers?”

Osgood said that patrol shifts have stayed about the same over time, with eight or nine officers on patrol during a shift. With more staffing, he said he could increase that number and create a pipeline for promoting patrol officers into investigative roles, such as in the computer crimes unit. Another option would be designating a patrol officer to focus on traffic enforcement.

While the number of officers on patrol has remained consistent, the police department has gained 12 funded police officer positions since 2000, an increase of 21%. Meanwhile, the total size of the Concord Police Department, which includes all staff, has grown 24% since 2000, from 89 total full-time positions to 111 positions in this year’s proposed budget.

Over the past two decades, the city’s population has grown by 8%, according to U.S. Census data.

Osgood said calls are taking more time to clear.

“The calls for service are increasing coming out of COVID, but one of the things that is apparent to me is the complexity of the cases,” Osgood said. “These aren’t cases we can handle in the matter of an hour.”

Penacook resident Pat Peick testified in favor of funding more police officers.

“I would be in favor of adding four and maybe more in successive years,” Peick said. “It’s been 30 years and we haven’t added any more capacity, that seems ridiculous to me,” he said.

While calls for service have increased, so have the number of criminal cases coming through Concord’s legal department. The proposed budget includes funding to reinstate a fourth assistant prosecutor.

Concord had 4,228 criminal cases in circuit court last year – the highest number of cases of any circuit court in the state, including Manchester and Nashua’s district division courts.

“We’re in close proximity to the prison, we’ve got a number of different issues going on, we’re fully staffed with the police department... it’s a busy docket,” City Solicitor Jim Kennedy said.

Recently passed House Bill 1597 would reverse Felonies First, sending felony arraignments to circuit court first and adding to the city prosecutors’ workload. “We need to be ready for that tidal wave,” Kennedy said. The position was initially eliminated during the last fiscal year in part because the courts had been closed.

The next budget meeting is on June 2 at 5:30 p.m, when city councilors and the public will hear about community development, leisure services, human services and the capital improvement program.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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