Chief wants more officers

Burglaries concern Amherst police

AMHERST – Police want to reduce neighbor­hood property crime, and to do that, they need more officers, the police chief told town officials last week.

The Amherst Police De­partment has 18 full-time officers, and Chief Mark Reams told the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee he would like at least one additional of­ficer.

Beginning around 2005, retail development along Route 101A began drain­ing the department’s re­sources away from resi­dential neighborhoods, the chief said, because of the substantial police re­sources they require.

Although Amherst hasn’t seen a great in­crease in home burglar­ies, he said, what there is has become alarming.

"Each one is a personal, invasive crime," Reams said. "People want to see cops in their neighbor­hoods. They don’t want to see the cars down 101A all day."

Additional officers would allow for more po­lice presence on town roads to better deter resi­dential property crime, he said.

Nineteen officers would give the town "three-car coverage" most of the time – meaning three po­lice cruisers for each of the four town sectors. Two more officers would increase that coverage to 100 percent, Reams said.

The current two-car model, he said, is 25 years old and no longer serves the town’s needs.

Reams, who has been asking for more officers since at least 2013, told town officials that about two months ago, a home surveillance system re­corded a man carrying a plastic bag walking around the first floor of a house near the Amherst- Bedford border. The vid­eo, which can be seen on the department’s Face­book page, shows the sus­pect taking cash and jew­elry.

"The guy was trotting around the living room," Reams said.

Along with reducing neighborhood property crime, other department goals are increasing traffic safety along roads and in residential areas and re­ducing the use and avail­ability of illicit drugs.

Reams would also like to increase officer train­ing, and he said more room at the station would help.

The Amherst Po­lice Department occu­pies about half of its 10,000-square-foot build­ing, and comparable New Hampshire agen­cies have 12,000 square feet, he said. The space was made available by the merger of EMS and the Fire Department.

Additional Police De­partment space is in the town’s Capital Im­provement Plan, which says the need "has been slowly developing over the past 17 years." It also notes that refurbishing the fire station should come first.

The chief’s presenta­tion is part of the initial stages of the town’s bud­get planning process, with town department heads reviewing their current and future needs for se­lectmen and the Budget Committee. It is part of a strategic planning pro­cess that the board initi­ated a few years ago.

Budget Committee Chairman John D’Angelo told Reams his Power­Point presentation was excellent and "far more persuasive" than previ­ous ones.

Reams also revised his department’s mission statement. It now says the department strives to "promote safety, fos­ter justice and inspire trust." He said he was prompted to do that af­ter the violent incidents around the country in­volving police and com­munity members – "some tragic, some disappoint­ing," he said.

"We are here to strengthen the quality of life" in Amherst, Reams said, "and try to do our best with compassion."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.