Local police chiefs react to shooting of police in Dallas

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUn

LACONIA — "It's not a good day," said Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin. "It's disturbing. I'm disgusted, angry and sad."

Wiggin was responding to the killing of five police officers and the wounding of seven others by a hail of gunfire that fell on the streets of Dallas, Texas Thursday night.

Wiggin said that he was most distressed by "the rapid rush to judge the police, the actions of the officer, before all the circumstances and facts are known. Police officers," he continued, "are human beings. They are fallible. They can make mistakes. But, that doesn't necessarily mean they are bad or racist. We are disgusted when an officer does something wrong," Wiggin went on, "and get rid of him as quickly as we can. I've done it." On the other hand, "sometimes honest mistakes happen," he said.

"The comments of public officials, including President Obama," Wiggin said, "are not very helpful." He said that the governor Minnesota had no reason to claim Philando Castile, who was shot by a police officer this week, would have not been shot had he not been black. "These kinds of statements embolden people," he said, "and more and more people are being drawn out."

Wiggin suggested that the vilification of the police arose from "something bigger going on here, " referring to "underlying problems like poverty, broken homes, poor housing that have nothing to do with the police." Police officers, he said, "have become convenient scapegoats. It's very disappointing and it needs to stop. We need to get serious. It's out of control."

In Gilford, Chief Anthony Bean Burpee sent an e-mail titled "recent events" and marked importance "high" to all members of his department. He said he felt "obligated to acknowledge the atrocity, rather than stay silent, and to say something collectively to you all."

"Such deliberate attacks on police by individuals," the chief wrote, are "unspeakable." Recalling a recent training event, he said one speaker addressed the concept of "What's Important Now," or WIN, and posed the question for the Gilford Police Department. "We must continue in our pursuit of excellence," he wrote. "We must continue to stay hungry and humble. We must continue to treat others with respect. We must continue spending time making ourselves better rather than making ourselves look good." In closing, he advised his officers to "Be cognizant of your surroundings, be vigilant and be safe!!!"

Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams said that the tragedy in Dallas had an impact on the officers of his department. "It's just very upsetting," he said. At the same time, he said that the department received a number of emails expressing support for its officers while one unnamed person had pizza delivered to the station. Adams said when he was stopped at a traffic light, a mother and daughter in the car alongside him gave him a thumbs up.

Referring to the department's long standing commitment to community policing, Adams said "we will continue to act as we have for many years. It has worked for us and it has worked for the community." At the same time, he said the department will continue to place heavy emphasis on officer safety and proper tactics, stressing that the incidents that capture the headlines and breed distrust of the police often stem from insufficient training and inappropriate tactics. "It's a combination of proper training of officers and a strong relationship with the community," he said.

"We live in a bit of a bubble up here," Wiggin remarked, explaining that police departments are integrated into their communities. What happened in Dallas, he said "is foreign to us." But, he cautioned "We're not immune. There are people who hate the police."

Crunch

07-09 Gilford accident

Gilford Police said no one was injured in a two-car collision on Lake Shore Road in front of Wendy's Restaurant Friday at 12:35 p.m. The cause of the crash is under investigation. (Laconia Daily Sun photo-Gail Ober)

Are you hands free? - Drivers sometimes lax on no-texting law

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Police Chief Chris said Wednesday that during the year since the Legislature forbid motorists from holding a mobile device while driving except to call emergency services, the Police Department has issued 237 warnings and 45 citations.

This week, The Nashua Telegraph reported that the New Hampshire State Police stopped 6,091 drivers for violating the law between Jan. 1 and June 19 this year and issued 3,215 citations and 2,876 warnings.

Adams said that in the first several months after the law took effect in July 2015, Laconia Police were more likely to issue a warning rather write a citation, with the intention of educating rather than punishing motorists, who may not have known about the prohibition. Since then, he said, "The decision is left to the discretion of the officer. Our goal," the chief continued, "is to change whatever behavior causes the officer to stop a vehicle."

However, Adams said he believes that after initially complying with the new law more and more drivers are reverting to what he called "their bad habits," either by sending text messages or making phone calls while driving. "You see them at traffic light looking into their laps and not moving when the signal changes," he said, "or holding a phone to their ear while driving."

Adams said that the department has received a grant from the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency, which administers and distributes federal funds, which is earmarked for enhanced enforcement of the "hands free" law.

The Nashua Telegraph reported that according to the New Hampshire Department of Safety distracted driving was the second or third leading cause of fatal collisions for 19 years before falling to sixth place in 2015. The data for 2015 includes the six months before the law became effective when an intensive effort was made to inform the public about the pending law. In the first six months of this year distracted driving has caused only one of 55 traffic deaths., compared to six of the 103 fatal collisions in 2016.

According to data collected by the Department of Safety distracted or inattentive driving caused 13 of 120 fatalities in 2010, 14 of 84 in 2011, 10 of 101 in 2012, 14 of 124 in 2013 and 13 of 89 in 2014. Impaired driving is the leading cause of fatalities, representing between 30 percent and 40 percent of deaths during the last 20 years.

Adams said that motorists distracted by using their mobile devices, whether to text messages, send emails or dial phones, present other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists at risk and stressed that officers will enforce the law.