To protect and serve...warrants

Interim municipal manager defends constable plan

ROCKINGHAM — A constable agreement signed last week by officials from Rockingham and Bellows Falls assigns Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake authority to perform four specific duties in that role.

The intermunicipal agreement will allow Lake to serve papers for either a civil or criminal process at the behest of town lawyers, Acting Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said.

Lake will also perform emergency duties for killing rabid animals in Rockingham, which has not had an animal control officer in recent years.

Other constable duties would include providing assistance to the health officer and removing disorderly people from town meetings.

Stearns said that no comp time or overtime would be accrued by Lake, as an employee of the village, for performing these new duties.

He noted that Lake will not answer to nor will be dispatched by Rockingham but rather by his office, which serves both municipal entities.

Serving the papers

According to Stearns, both the Rockingham Selectboard and the Bellows Falls Village Trustees, at the behest of attorneys, have been looking into having someone who could serve papers in a more timely manner as early as last June.

The Windham County Sheriff's Department patrol, which contracts with many county towns to provide law enforcement services, was not an optimal solution because it cannot provide service around the clock.

According to Stearns, members of the two boards thought it logical that the police chief take on these duties, as he has undergone training now required by the state.

In the past, state law allowed a constable to serve papers across town lines, anywhere in the state. But the position is now required to be authorized at a town level, Stearns said.

Furthermore, Stearns noted that constables are now required to have first-level police training, due to a 2012 change in state statutes.

According to the website of the state's Criminal Justice Training Council, “Part-time constables must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 58 hours of classroom instruction in order to receive a provisional 12-month certification.

“This certificate allows part-time constables to exercise law enforcement powers, but only under the direct supervision and control of fully certified law enforcement officers.

“In order to exercise full law enforcement authority, part-time constables must complete an additional 110 hours of training during a 12-month period.”

In Lake, said Stearns, “We already have a certified full-time policeman,” eliminating the need to train anyone.

“Someone who is a constable can serve notice anywhere in the town of Rockingham. With more than 50 percent of the population in Bellows Falls, this is not hard to figure out where the papers are likely to be served.”

“It makes sense to use resources we already have available,” Stearns said.

The municipal manager said fees - “the federal rate for mileage and then a service fee which is established by statute” - would range from $50 to $150, plus mileage.

Stearns said that Lake recently billed out $176 for 10 minutes of work, and he never left the village.

“It's miscellaneous income to the Village of Bellows Falls police department, and it takes in revenue for the village,” he explained, calling the arrangement “a win-win.”

Rabid animals

Stearns said that, in the case of a resident arriving home after work to find a rabid animal in their yard, someone needs to dispatch the animal immediately. Lake apparently has been doing this duty in any case.

Stearns explained that when residents arrive home from work or are leaving for work in the morning, is when most discoveries occur, and Lake is also on the road.

He could easily take the “long way” home or to work, to perform this duty, the municipal manager said.

Dispatch changes

Another crucial change for the village has been enabled as a result of fiber optic technology arriving in Bellows Falls.

The Bellows Falls Village Corporation signed an agreement for dispatch services with the Windham County Sheriff's Department last week, scheduled to officially begin Sept. 15.

“The anticipated net cost for all the components is $100,000,” Stearns said.

He said that he, Sheriff Keith Clark, and Lake have been working on the problem of updating the 20 call boxes in and around the village and Rockingham, an emergency notification system based on technology rooted at the turn of the 20th century.

Stearns said that he, Clark, and Lake have “been nipping away at this for quite a while.”

He said a new code-call system - one that can concurrently notify emergency personnel via digital and wireless technology - in the village will be fully integrated with the fire and police departments, the Southwestern New Hampshire District Fire Mutual Aid regional dispatch center in Keene, N.H., and emergency services at Golden Cross Ambulance in Claremont, N.H.

“The missing link was having adequate connectivity. You need redundancy. We have a redundant radio and fiber-optic backup so any time of the day, no matter what time it is,” dispatch can route a call properly, Stearns said.

It was “the fiber-optic communication connection that has been lacking between this part of the county and sheriff's department that precipitated a viable and comprehensive plan,” Stearns said.

Consequently, he added, the police chief and sheriff “were able to bring to the trustees a plug-and-play plan,” which was approved Aug. 13.

The Bellows Falls Village Corporation will pay the Windham County Sheriff's Department $84,000 a year for this service, as well as the monthly line and service fee.

Stearns said the dispatch service will operate for two weeks through Sept. 15 for a trial period to work out the kinks before the system is completely switched over.

“From my perspective, it's a two-fold win - it's improving the protocols as far as streamlining how various agencies are contacted in emergency, and it is saving the costs and benefits of a dispatch employee,” he said.

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