April 19. 2013 4:54AM

Merrimack Special Officers to be retired

Union Leader Correspondent

MERRIMACK - It will soon be the end of an era for the Merrimack Police Department, as it plans to dissolve its longstanding Special Officer Division this summer.

After 108 years of service, the Special Officer Division, or part-time police force, will be taken out of service on July 1, according to Chief Mark Doyle.

While the part-time officers have served the town incredibly well throughout the years, Doyle said it has been increasingly difficult to recruit and train the part-time staff.

"We used to have 14 or 15 part-time officers," said Doyle, explaining just two are still serving on the Special Officer Division.

Those two officers - John Pelletier and Timothy St. Cyr - have done a variety of patrol work just like full-time police officers, said the chief.

Still, Doyle said it is difficult to keep the part-time officers highly trained and as skillful as the full-time police force, prompting the decision to discontinue the Special Officers Division.

"We've been very fortunate that many of our officers have come from the part-time rank," he said. "About two-thirds of our officers were part-time initially, so it has served us well."

Next month, the department will formally recognize the dozens of part-time police officers who have worked for the Merrimack Police Department throughout the last century. At the department's annual open house event, a special ceremony will take place to honor past and present members of the Special Officer Division.

Because the special officers were required to perform the same duties with the same responsibilities and risks as full-time officers, Doyle said they deserve to be praised.

"Most of these special officers were town residents who took time away from their own families to assist with keeping the peace in Merrimack," the department said in a release.

All former part-time officers and their families are invited to attend the event. A plaque with the names of all previous constables, auxiliaries and special officers will be dedicated at the police station.

Part-time officers have been utilized in town since it was incorporated in 1746, when constables were used on an as-needed basis for keeping the peace, according to the release, which said the town began using auxiliary officers around 1940.

During the 1980s, the department ended its auxiliary division and moved several of those individuals into the Special Officers Division. However, participants began declining in the 1990s in part because of more complicated legal requirements, low pay and longer hours, said the release.

As for the two remaining part-time officers, Doyle said St. Cyr will continue working as a full-time dispatcher and communications specialist for the department. Meanwhile, Pelletier is currently in the process of looking for part-time employment elsewhere, said the chief.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on May 11 at the station, 31 Baboosic Lake Road. The public is encouraged to attend the ceremony and open house.