LACONIA — The Police Commission learned last week that the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Academy in Concord will be reducing the number of classes it offers for free to the state's police departments.
According to Capt. Bill Clary, classes no longer being offered for free are some of the advanced training classes that some of his senior officers are inclined to take.
Clary told the commission any class offered by local staff will still be free to all departments but when the academy has to bring instructors from vendor agencies, those classes must be paid for by the individual departments who send officers to them.
He said Laconia's annual training budget is $20,000 annually and, along with training, the fund is used for ammunition, for firearms certification for 41 sworn officers, twice a year ,and for Taser lances, and less-than-lethal ammunition.
According to a memorandum sent by the commander of the academy to the chief of each law enforcement agency in the state, the funding for the police training academy comes from the penalty assessment assigned to a guilty finding in most criminal and traffic cases.
"Unfortunately, continued declines in revenues combined with the transfers from the training fund over the last decade or more by the Legislature have put the balance of the fund at a critically low level," wrote NHPST Commander Anthony F. Colarusso, Jr..
One of the cuts that will affect many local department is accident reconstruction classes, beyond that which is taught during every officers' time at the basic police academy, will cost participating departments.
Belmont Police Chief Mark Lewandoski is the commander of the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team and said the effects of the costs of these training classes on the existing teams members may initially be minimal but as some of them retire or decide they no longer want to participate for one reason or another, it will cost individual departments a lot of money to replace them.
To become a certified accident reconstructionist, said Belknap County Sheriff Sgt. Bill Wright, a member must complete three separate classes which amount to six weeks of training. The accident reconstruction team consists of a number of "specialists" who are called to the scene of a deadly or extreme personal injury crash to determine, among, other things, whether or not criminal charges could or should be brought. For example, much of the evidence that was used to get secure a guilty plea from the woman who killed a Laconia Middle School student and seriously injured another with her vehicle was gathered by BRAIT.
Other classes that will not be provided according to the N.H. Police Standards and Training website include field training for internal training officers, the deadliness of stress and police work, "dust and bust" (advanced forensic training for detectives), conflict resolution, anger management, advanced interview and interrogation, basic police photography and advanced gang training.
New Hampton Police Chief George Hawkins said smaller departments like his will be negatively affected more so than the larger departments because of the relative size of the training budgets and the limited number of employees who can be trained.
This year, he said the department has $1,000 for training. He said he was ready to send one of his sergeants to field training officer class — this is the officer who trains new employees in a department and every department has one — and the cost of the class — $575 — will put a big dent in his training budget.
Hawkins said he is asking his Selectboard to increase his training line from $1,000 to $2,500 to allow him to get some of his officers some advanced training.
Lewandoski said he won't ask for more than the $10,000 for 18 sworn officers he is already allocated — at least for 2016. He also said that like Laconia Police, his training line is used for firearms qualifications as well. Hawkins said New Hampton has a separate line item for that.
"I'll just have to be more selective in what classes I send my officers to," Lewandoski said, adding he is talking with other area chiefs about how to maybe combine some resources and have some staff train other staff in some of the advanced disciplines.
He said he likes to train his people but there is also a chance he'll loose them to another agency or to retirement.
All of the chiefs interviewed said an additional expense for out-of house training includes shift coverage and that could include overtime. In Laconia and Belmont, the top administrators who are salaried employees often cover training shifts so as to keep overtime down.
Academy Capt. Benjamin Jean said the revenue going into the fund has never come from a legislative appropriation but only from the penalty assessment. He said one of the reasons the fund balance is dropping is because of fewer citations and because in many negotiated dispositions the penalty assessment is waived. In addition, many people don't pay their fines much less the penalty assessment and more and more judges are waiving the penalty assessment because of an inability of some to pay.
"We've been saying we have problems for years," he said, adding reductions to staff have been made over the past four years that the only things left to do is to charge independent departments for certain specialized training.
Jean said a second source of revenue is a penalty paid by those on probation or parole of $5 per month that comes to the academy but noted it is only $63,000 annually and represents a small fraction of what it costs to operate.
Jean agreed with Lewandoski that it is the classes for officer with five or more years for which they are charging. "Certification will still be performed at no cost to the department," he said.
Jean also said that he and the rest of the NHPST Council have decided that its time to find a more effective way of funding the academy and have begun some plans that he hopes will be presented to the N.H. Legislature at some point before the next budget cycle in two years.