By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Citing steep increases in the number of arrests, the Police Department has requested to add a full-time officer to its ranks in the 2017 town budget.
Currently the department has 18 full-time officers. However, Lt. Kris Kelley noted that frequently the department is operating with with 16 or 17, as officers may be ill, injured, in court or undergoing training. In 2014 both the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee unanimously agreed to hire an additional officer, the first added to department since 2003, in response to increased calls for service, felony investigations and arrests.
Since then, Kelley said that calls for service have remained stable at around 21,000, but the nature of calls has changed, leading to a significant rise in the number of arrests. There were 529 arrests in 2014, 629 in 2015 and more than 835 so far this year, representing an increase of 57 percent with another quarter of this year remaining.
By comparison, Belmont, with 18 officers, has reported 325 arrests; Meredith, with 14 officers, has reported 178 arrests; and Alton, with 16 officers, has reported 145 arrests. Gilford has made 46 arrests for each officer while Belmont has made 18, Meredith 13 and Alton 9.
"We are definitely struggling to keep up with the activity," Kelley said. "We are just very, very busy."
Kelley traced a significant share of the increase in arrests to the prevalence of drug use, which spawns associated criminal activity like burglary and theft. At the same time, he suggested that attendance at both the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion and Gunstock Mountain Resort has grown, remarking that "where there are more people, there are more problems."
Kelley said Town Administrator Scott Dunn and the Board of Selectmen have indicated their unwillingness to fund the request, which remains to be referred to the Budget Committee.
"We're trying to create some awareness," he said, adding that residents have come to expect prompt and effective service from their police.