Editorial: Is another dispatcher at the Peterborough Police Department really necessary?

Do we really need another employee at the Peterborough Police Department? That’s the question that came to mind after learning of Chief Scott Guinard’s recommendation for 24-hour, in-house dispatching that would add one full-time clerk dispatcher to the force.

Guinard’s position is that, among other things, a 24-hour service would result in faster response times for emergency calls because, as he put it, “A dispatcher in Goffstown doesn’t know the roads in Peterborough.” But is it necessary for the dispatcher to know the roads in Peterborough in order to relay the name of the street to the local police officer or firefighter? Perhaps not, since that’s the way it’s been done for many years now.

At a joint meeting of the Select Board and Budget Committee on Dec. 14, Guinard also pointed out that having a dispatcher manning the police station at all times would help when citizens drop by the station, for instance to pick up a lost item. It would help keep the officers out on the road, he said.

With one dispatcher on at all times in Peterborough, the cost would be $9,729 more than what the town is currently budgeting for dispatching services in the 2014 fiscal year. All told, the salaries, benefits and overtime for three full-time and two part-time dispatchers is projected to cost $263,000. But we’re told there would be some setup costs, too, including an expansion of the dispatching facilities at the police station. Plus, Guinard wants the Select Board to support a $25,000 warrant article to study the benefits of dispatching in-house.

Both the police and fire chiefs have the community’s respect and admiration for what they do, keeping the towns of Peterborough and Sharon safe day and night, 365 days a year. So when they tell us to consider something, we take notice. Adding more staff to the department is a road voters went down recently. Recall the petition for a school resource officer at ConVal High School, which was voted down in March, with 1,452 of voters in the ConVal School District in favor and 2,483 opposed. Peterborough was the only town in the nine-town district where the article received a majority vote of 566 to 532. So perhaps there are those who would support adding more staff to the department, but let’s do some comparison.

In the immediate vicinity, only Jaffrey, which had 5,457 residents at the 2010 census, currently has as many full-time officers as Peterborough. Jaffrey has 11 full-timers and just one full-time dispatcher, while Peterborough, which had a population of 6,284 in 2010 and covers Sharon’s 352 or so residents, has two full-time dispatchers and two part-time dispatchers. Other towns nearby are running much thinner. In Rindge, where there were 6,014 people at the 2010 census, the Police Department is budgeted for eight full-time officers and one dispatcher; and New Ipswich, which had a population of 5,099 in 2010, is authorized for six full-time officers. In 2010 in New Hampshire, the average number of police officers per 1,000 people was 1.9795, according to FBI reports.

Guinard may be right that doing dispatching in-house has its benefits, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient way of doing it. Leslie Lewis, chair of Peterborough’s Capital Improvement Committee, suggested that the dispatching study include the impact of adding staff to the payrolls over time. We’d also like to know the estimated cost of expanding the station.

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