BY GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — A unanimous board of selectmen agreed last night that the police department can move forward with having one full-time school resource officer in the school district and adding a third detective.
To supplement the lack of the second SRO, Police Chief Bean Burpee said that officers and supervisors on day shifts will spend time at the schools as part of their routine assignments, especially during opening and closing times when traffic is heavy and during special events.
"Officers will stop by, visit classrooms and eat lunch with the students whenever possible," he said, adding that the overall police presence at the schools will be about the same as it is now.
"I was an SRO for four years," said Bean Burpee continued. "I remain committed to the program."
During the past two years, the department has had one full-time SRO and one officer who was a detective, an SRO two or three days a week, and the DARE officer. Bean Burpee explained to the board he felt the DARE officer was being pulled in too many directions. With the change, she will be assigned to the detective bureau permanently but will keep her DARE certification up to date so she can assist the full-time SRO/DARE officer as needed.
He also told the board he is advertising in house for a third detective now that he has successfully hired an 18th officer, which is a position added to the department about three years ago. Until now, the department had been operating with one open position because of staff turnover.
Bean Burpee said the number of thefts, drug cases and other felonies has risen dramatically over the past five years, emphasizing that in 2012 the department handled 139 felonies and so far this year they have already handled 49, which is about a 70 percent increase.
"The (bureau of criminal investigations) is barely holding its head above water," he said.
He said detectives are responsible for investigating many misdemeanors, all felonies, all referrals to the Division of Children, Youth and Families, and with working with the Belknap County Attorney to process criminal cases for indictment.
Selectman Gus Benavides said the town has had a long history of having two full-time SROs in the school and it was at the behest of the Gilford School Board.
"The priority has to be balancing the need to have our children protected (and) hear the needs of the families while (being aware of) your staff needs," he said.
Benavides said that he was amenable to the idea but warned that if there was any push back from the parents the selectmen might have to revisit the decision.
Bean Burpee said he was also concerned about push back from crime victims. He said he and Superintendent Kent Hemingway have discussed the change and said he will make stopping by the schools without the SRO that day part of an officer's routine duties.
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