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Hooksett chief tells of high morale

HOOKSETT - Since Hooksett's new police chief took over in January, the number of motor vehicle stops has nearly tripled from the previous year, with a big surge in drunken-driving arrests.

Chief Peter Bartlett told town councilors Wednesday night that the changes he has made to the department have paid off.

"I would ask them 'What's different now, what do you see?' and I was told: they like to come to work," he said of members of his department.

"Everybody that I talk to seems happy ... I think they see good things happening in the future."

In the first two months of 2012, the department conducted 794 motor vehicle stops. To date from Jan. 1, the department has conducted 2,129. DWI stops and arrests are also up.

The chief's report was part of a presentation the Hooksett Police Commission made to the Town Council Wednesday night, providing an update on the rebuilding of the department and making a case for its continued existence. A petition warrant item on the town ballot proposes abolishing the three-member commission.

"We as the police commission provide oversight, protect the taxpayer and the town and insulate the police department from the politics of local government," said Commissioner Kenneth Scherer. "I know Hooksett's not immune from that, like any other town."

Critics of the commission have argued that it has "micro-managed" the department and lacked transparency and efficiency, especially during the long search for a new police chief. The town council issued a vote of no-confidence in the commission last September, citing similar concerns.

Commissioner Clark Karolian laid out the challenges the current commission has faced, detailed in a 2011 audit. These included an inconsistent and arbitrary disciplinary system, a set of standard operating procedures with "no rhyme or reason," equipment stockpiling, low moral and a high turnover rate.

Chairman Joanne McHugh noted that legal costs have been cut significantly, with general legal questions now being directed to the Local Government Center.

Scherer spoke to the commission's accomplishments over the last year, including a more streamlined command structure, technology upgrades in record-keeping, an "all time high" moral and a host of internal promotions and outside hires.

"Hooksett today is a place to come and work," he said. "People want to be here, and they want to stay here."

The commission's use of non-public sessions, which has been described by critics as excessive, was also addressed.

"We have a lot of non-publics for a reason," said Karolian. "It's not for lack of transparency, it's for personnel issues we have to deal with all the time."

Chief Bartlett told councilors that when he started with the department, he "saw that there was a lack of communication, some distrust, some disconnect. I wanted to make (addressing that) a priority, because we are doing a very important job here for the community, and we have to be on the same page with communication, trusting each other, and being able to work together."

Patrol and detective hours were overlapped, creating more sharing of information, he said. The department has expanded its community outreach programming, hosting a business fraud seminar and a women's self-defense course. News releases are now issued regularly by the department, the chief said.

Bartlett said the higher number of motor vehicle stops is proof the changes are helping.

"It says to me that the men and women at this agency are working, and they're happy about it," he said.

Councilors praise the presentation. Councilor Michael Downer asked whether the commission would consider making such an update a regular occurrence. Scherer indicated that the commissioners would, noting that they've "never been adverse to that."

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