New Police Chief looks toward full staffing and community involvement in New Ipswich
NEW IPSWICH — The New Ipswich Police Department has moved ahead by naming a veteran officer as its new police chief. And now Tim Carpenter faces a task of rebuilding an organization decimated by recent departures, unfilled positions and longstanding tensions between many in the town and the former police chief.
The New Ipswich Police Department has been in flux throughout the second half of this year, as the town was faced with paying $175,000 to buy out the contract of former Police Chief Garrett Chamberlain. The ensuing resignation of another full-time officer deepened the frustration, and left the department with little staffing and no direct leadership.
The staffing crunch came to a head during a recent holiday weekend, forcing the department to operate unstaffed for three days.
And with the town exploring the possibility of regionalizing the department with one of the surrounding towns, and a payscale that wasn’t in line with towns of comparable size, it was difficult to attract certified officers with experience to join the force.
At the beginning of November, the Select Board made the decision to promote Carpenter, a nine-year veteran of the department, to the position of chief, tasking him with rebuilding the staff and moving the department forward.
Carpenter will be facing several hurdles as he works to shape the department in the coming months, not the least of which is the extreme staffing shortage.
Currently, Carpenter is the only full-time officer employed by the department, with assistance from two part-time officers, both of whom have other full-time jobs. Along with the buyout of Chamberlain’s contract, the department also lost a full-time officer at the beginning of this month, when Officer Matt Morrison resigned effective Nov. 1.
Carpenter said his number one priority as chief is getting the department back at full staff. One potential full-time officer is currently completing his training at the Police Standards and Training Council academy and will join the department in January, but even then police are woefully understaffed, said Carpenter.
“The town has authorized six [full-time officers]. If I can get back to that six, that’s a real good starting point. I do believe at six officers that we’re still understaffed, but we can at least function,” he said.
In the past, the Police Department has had a difficult time retaining officers, who left for jobs in nearby towns with better pay, better benefits, or better hours, said Carpenter. Increasing the pay for both certified and uncertified officers will go a long way in attracting officers and getting them to stay with the department, he said.
The department went through a hiring process in July, and received 15 applications of untrained officers for the three positions open at the time, but after an extensive screening process, ultimately none were qualified, he said.
Although the department is currently short on officers, there has been interest from certified officers for the open positions, said Carpenter. In addition to the applicant currently undergoing academy training, Carpenter is in the midst of interviewing two other certified candidates.
With those pay increases, however, there’s another issue Carpenter will have to wrestle with: the Police Department budget. Carpenter and the Select Board agreed to craft a budget with a hiring rate for certified officers at $55,000, based on the wages for comparable towns. While pay increases will raise the cost of running the department, so will the buyout of the former police chief’s contract.
The increase in pay for the certified officers, and factoring in a year’s worth of the weekly installments of a $175,192.52 buyout of Chamberlain’s contract means there will be a significantly higher police budget this year, according to Select Board Chair George Lawrence. The department will need about $800,000 to have six full-time officers at the new rates, about $120,000 more than last year’s budget, said Lawrence. And while Lawrence said the actual expenditure next year will not be that high, as neither Carpenter or the Select Board expects a full roster of officers by the beginning of the year, voters will see a higher proposed police budget at March 2013 Town Meeting.
“It will be higher, no doubt about that,” Lawrence said.
Currently, the lack of officers has severely limited the department, Carpenter said. The department hasn’t been able to be present in the community as much as he would like, he said.
Carpenter said he’s been focusing on being available during days, to deal with any potential issues with the three schools in town, and allowing state police to cover the department during the evening and overnight. But with covering many administrative duties and working through the hiring process for several new officers, he does not have the time to be proactive in the community, he said.
Officer Mark Krook of the New Ipswich Police Department told Select Board members at an Oct. 2 board meeting that such a limited staff is simply inadequate. He told the board that in 21 years of working with the department, he had never seen staffing that low. Krook said he could remember when the department was fully staffed with five or six full time officers in addition to six part-timers.
New Ipswich has a population of 5,099, according to the 2010 United States Census and a total square mileage of 33 miles. In comparison, the town of Peterborough, which had a population of 6,284 in 2010, and has a total square mileage of 38 miles, has 11 full-time officers, including the Chief of Police, and one part-time officer. They are authorized for an additional three part-time positions, according to Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard. Peterborough also shares police services with Sharon.
Krook told the Select Board during the Oct. 2 meeting that there was one holiday weekend, when state police were unable to cover the New Ipswich Police Department, resulting in several calls going unanswered until the following Tuesday.
In an effort to have a presence in the Police Department to deal with walk-in complaints and simple requests, Carpenter has requested an increase of the police secretary’s hours from 32 hours a week to 40.
There are times when he is in the field, he said, when he is called back to the police station to deal with a routine walk-in resident issue, such as requests for accident reports or permits, which the secretary could handle.
“We’re a service-based industry,” Carpenter said. “No one wants to come to the police station and find a locked door.”
How we got here
Carpenter took over the position as police chief in October, replacing Garrett Chamberlain, who notified selectmen in July of his intent to resign effective Dec. 31.
Selectmen agreed to buyout Chamberlain’s contract for $175,192.52, or 18 months of salary and benefits, to be paid to Chamberlain in weekly installments.
One of Chamberlain’s main reasons for stepping down was a lack of support for the department by townspeople.
“There is negative energy regarding support for anything police,” Chamberlain said, according to non-public Select Board minutes for July 30, which have since been released.
Carpenter said that along with seeking positions with higher pay and better benefits, many of the officers who have left the department in the nine years he’s been on the force have also said they didn’t feel support from the community. “I think the officers that left felt they weren’t appreciated by the townspeople,” Carpenter said.
In 2011, a petition warrant article was brought forward by resident Cindy Somero that would have made the police chief an elected position. The article was defeated in a 714 to 481 vote.
At the time, Chamberlain said the result of the vote showed that the town did support him in his position. “It was a tremendous vote of support and confidence in the work that the Police Department has done,” Chamberlain said of the failed warrant article in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript in March 2011, following Town Meeting.
This year, the town also examined the possibility of regionalizing the Police Department by combining it with one or more of the departments in surrounding towns, which would eliminate a police chief position in either New Ipswich or the cooperating town. Chamberlain stated during his July 30 meeting with the Select Board that he felt the purpose of the Regionalization Committee was to eliminate him as police chief.
Following Chamberlain’s resignation notice, the Select Board sent letters to Sharon, Greenville, Temple, Rindge and Mason, asking whether any of them would be interested in regionalizing, but received negative responses from all five towns.
Select Board Chair George Lawrence said that while there may always be some ambivalent feelings about the Police Department, he believes the town’s voting record shows overall support. He pointed to the defeat of the 2011 warrant article, and approved increases to the police budget to allow for higher pay for new hires as indication that residents support their police officers.
“It’s never going to be 100 percent,” Lawrence said, “but generally there appears to be support by a majority of voters.”
Some residents said recently that they are glad Chamberlain is gone.
“Thank the Lord,” said resident Ashley Schultz in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript about Chamberlain’s resignation. “It couldn’t have happened soon enough.”
Resident and N.H. State Representative Jim Coffey, who is also a former New Ipswich selectman, said he didn’t have an issue with Chamberlain when Chamberlain was chief, but he did not approve of the buyout of Chamberlain’s contract.
“I really have an issue paying someone for a long period of time not to come to work, and I think there were other alternatives that could have been put into place,” he said. “If the chief doesn’t want to work here, he shouldn’t work here. If you’re dissatisfied with the job performance, you do something about it, you look for change, facilitate the change, or you ask the person to leave. If that results in a lawsuit, or confrontation, you do that, you don’t just give someone a year and a half of pay.”
However, some residents expressed support for Chamberlain.
“I think we made a mistake letting Chamberlain get away from here,” said resident Ken Mogensen. “I think he did an excellent job, and it was a mistake to let him go that easily.”
Mogensen said he didn’t have any issues with the buyout of Chamberlain’s contract. “I think that was the right thing to do once they made the decision, I just think it was the wrong decision [to let Chamberlain resign],” he said.
Carpenter said one of the reasons he stayed with the New Ipswich Police Department for so many years was out of loyalty to the town and to Chamberlain in particular.
“Chief Chamberlain did an outstanding job while he was here,” he said. “He helped to grow the department and move it forward.”
A number of residents said they were happy with Carpenter’s promotion.
“I think it was an excellent choice,” said Coffey. “I would go back to the ice storm of 2008, where he seemed to be the real take-charge person in the Police Department, and he did an outstanding job.”
Schultz said, “I’m excited and happy for [Carpenter]. I hope he’ll open up some new opportunities in New Ipswich.”
Resident Dee Daley said she was glad the promotion was given to someone who had almost 10 years of experience policing New Ipswich. “I’m glad that someone that already knows the town is going to be police chief. For me, that’s a basic comfort level,” she said.
Select Board Chair George Lawrence said, “His goal is to make New Ipswich a place where people can have a police force they can be proud of, and to go forward with a positive relationship with the people.”
Aside from getting the staffing back up, Carpenter said another one of his goals was to increase police involvement in the community. He said he would like to initiate more community programs and outreach, and increase the police presence in town.
“I think we need to be able to be proactive, instead of completely and totally reactive. Once I get [officers] out there, being visible and talking to people, that’s going to get the propellers moving forward,” he said. “From there, I’d like to get some community-based programs in place, and hopefully that will help with that endeavor.”
Carpenter said the nature of the community programs would depend largely on the skill set of the officers he hires, and what they’re able to bring to the table.
An increase in pay for incoming certified officers will ease that process, he said.
It’s to the town’s benefit to hire officers already certified, said Carpenter. It means New Ipswich does not have to pay to train them. When New Ipswich hires an untrained officer, they are retained on a three-year contract, but often they don’t continue past three years, Carpenter noted.
“For the nine years that I’ve been here, we’ve been a training ground,” he said. “To retain employees, you have to pay them. This isn’t a normal service based job. It’s a specialized service. To think someone’s going to come in at a laborer’s wage and remain there, you can see where the morale would dip. To retain good people that are loyal to the community, we have to pay them or they’re going to move on.”
Last year, the town approved a budget to increase the budget for the Police Department by $113,000, in part to accommodate a raise in the base pay for uncertified officers. This year, Carpenter has proposed a similar raise in starting pay for certified officers.
Uncertified officers now start at a base pay of $43,000. Carpenter and the Select Board agreed to put together a budget for the upcoming year that includes starting salaries of $55,000 for certified officers, based on towns of comparable population and geography. That’s a step in the right direction for keeping officers on the force, said Carpenter, and has already attracted some certified candidates to apply for the open positions.
Carpenter encouraged residents to contact the Police Department with any issues. Between the current staffing and support from state police, the town is covered, he said.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.