Bill Hart’s weekend staff had a lot of company.
The Londonderry Police Chief was heartened when, over the weekend of July 9 and 10, between 30 and 40 families stopped by the department to express their appreciation for the Londonderry force. It was a welcome experience after the shooting deaths of five Dallas officers this past Friday night.
Hart took a moment during the Town Council meeting’s Public Comment Monday night to express his regret for what happened, and to assure the Council and constituents that his department will give every citizen their share of respect, regardless of race, color or creed.
The meeting opened with Vice-Chair Tom Freda in charge, in the absence of Chair John Farrell, asking for a moment of silence for those slain in Dallas.
Hart said, “I want to thank our community. We were touched by the outpouring of support.”
Many residents have asked if Londonderry gives its officers “anti-bias” training and Hart said it does. In addition, over the last decade, they’ve engaged in extensive self-evaluation. “We ask ourselves if we engage in any bias-based policies,” he said.
He’s proud of “what we’ve built here,” he said. In the past year officers responded to well over 1,000 incidents, and had to use force only in 17.
He has built one of the finest departments in the state, he said, with other departments asking for consultations and state boards asking LPD members to be officers. Lt. Patrick Cheetham has already been asked to speak on the tragedy in Dallas, Hart said.
Hart observed, “These are challenging times.” The country has been here before, with race riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and in the Watts section of Los Angeles. We have made strides as a country since those times, he said, but we have a ways to go.
“We need to be open to those we serve, and recognize their First Amendment rights to speech,” Hart said.
In addition, he said, “most police officers are open to how we can do this job better.” He said his officers are always striving for “deeper respect, deeper understanding and deeper compassion:” toward those they serve.
“For us to succeed, we must continue to build trust in Londonderry,” he said. And that includes being open to those who criticize them most loudly.
His hope is that “those who feel they have been targeted do not paint us with the broad brush of hatred.”
Hart added, “In this job, I am sworn to protect your abilities under our Constitution with my life.”
Councilor Tom Dolan also read a letter of appreciation to Londonderry’s finest. He noted that the town’s prayers go out to the families of those killed, Sgt. Michael Smith, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Patrick Zammaripa, and Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson.
Dolan wrote, “I speak for the entire Council and Town Manager tonight to express our strong support for our police officers and their families as they go to work each and every day, strap on that bullet-proof vest, with the sobering thought that they might not return home alive.
“In Londonderry,” he wrote, “we are proud of our first responders and especially the professional leadership presently training our officers and reinforcing meaningful community outreach and relations.”
Dolan noted, “In a show of support and to better understand the dangers they face, several of us will be participating in ‘ride-alongs,’ where we will accompany police officers on their shift.” Many Councilors have done this in the past, but will do it again to show support and understanding, he said.
Dolan concluded, “When you bump into a first responder around town, take time to say ‘thank you.’”
In other public safety business, Fire Chief Darren O’Brien took the microphone Monday night to remind the Council and television audience of the 20th anniversary of the town’s ALS (advanced life support) services. In 1996, he said, the then-chief decided to break away from the town they were contracting with for ambulance services. Londonderry began offering ALS by training five officers and hiring three more.
The ALS service made 2,000 calls that first year. Since then, call volume has increased 48 percent and they have four ALS units, he said, employing 22 paramedics.