October 15. 2013 11:23PM

Manchester aldermen vote to explore hiring more police

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — Aldermen have voted to explore hiring additional police officers in light of escalating concerns over crime.

Aldermen Patrick Arnold and Dan O'Neil made a proposal at Tuesday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to increase the number of police officers.

Arnold, who is a candidate for mayor, said the proposal grew out of a community meeting held to discuss the spike in burglaries over the summer.

"A lot of members of the community came out and shared personal concerns they had about public safety," Arnold said. "What we're trying to do is jump-start a discussion at the aldermanic level to put more cops on the streets and in the neighborhoods."

The motion, which was approved unanimously on a voice vote by the aldermen, doesn't specify the number of officers that should be hired, nor does it state how the new positions would be paid for. Rather, it states that "city officials should be pursuing every opportunity to hire additional police officers, including applying for grants and funding through COPS or other applicable government programs."

The proposal will next be taken up by the Committee on Public Safety.

The debate Tuesday over the proposal centered on whether the city should seek federal grants to hire more officers. Last year, Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed applying for such a grant, arguing that the city would have to absorb the staffing costs after the grants ran out in a few years. The aldermen overrode the veto.

On Tuesday, Gatsas reiterated those concerns, arguing that the hiring of any new officers should be handled through the budget process.

"I don't disagree; public safety is absolutely paramount in this city," he said.

Police Chief David Mara agreed more officers were needed, but he did not directly advocate for a particular funding strategy.

"I strongly believe we need more police officers so we can be proactive rather than reactive," he said.

In response to a question from Alderman Phil Greazzo, Mara said burglaries have declined since they spiked in July at 148. There were 85 burglaries last month.