The town of Londonderry is changing, and Police Chief Bill Hart wants to be ready.
Hart and Capt, Chris Gandia appeared before the Londonderry Town Council in its June 30 meeting to present a Five-Year Strategic Plan for the department. The plan is a living document that will change along with the changing times.
Hart told the Council, “About 10 months ago, we began considering the challenges we are facing internally.” He referenced the Woodmont Commons development “and a myriad of other projects.” The heroin problem in New Hampshire is also a factor, he said (see related story).
Hart said, “We need to get started and develop a plan. We want to be as transparent as we can.
Hart and Gandia’s document should be good for the next five years, he said, adding, “But it’s an organic document and subject to change.”
The strategy includes long-term thinking about personnel, equipment, budgeting and services, Hart said.
“We are focusing our vision and putting it on paper,” Gandia contributed.
The document addresses four areas: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, Gandia said.
Gandia said he and Hart are aiming for a collaborative approach, discussing the plan on various levels throughout the department. “That allows for a buy-in,” he said.
Gandia, who heads the Services Division, gave an example. “We have annual, semi-annual and monthly meetings,” he said. On the monthly level, that’s where they “get into details,” according to Gandia.
“In our meetings, we identified one of the threats,” he said. “It’s planning for successive leadership.”
Gandia explained that many seasoned Londonderry police administrators are nearing the ends of their careers, including the recently-retired Lt. Tim Jones. Without planning for succession, it could be disruptive to the department, he said.
“So we made it a short-term goal to plan for succession in administrative roles,” he said, explaining how the perceived threat resulted in a goal.
“This is our vision and how we want to get there,” Gandia said.
Hart asked for input from the Council, saying, “The eyes looking at us are just as important as the eyes looking out.”
Councilor Joe Green observed, “In my job, we analyze all the time. We are constantly evolving, looking at our strengths and weaknesses. This is a great document to have.”
Councilor Tom Freda observed that Hart listed one of the weaknesses as the number of patrol officers and detectives being static. “Will this come up in budget season?” Freda asked.
Hart responded, “We will consult with the Town Manager on that. If there is a request, it will be supported by documentation and data.” The department will give the Council information so they can make good decisions, Hart said.
Freda said, “If we say we want no more than a 1 percent increase, do we still get the information? Do we still get to hear what you need?”
“We are going to be candid,” Hart said. “Going forward, this town is facing challenges we have never seen before.”
He’s been working on budget projections since December, Hart said, and planned his first formal budget meeting for Wednesday with all his command staff.
Green asked, “Does the understaffing piece refer to now, or going forward?”
They are understaffed now, Hart said. “We’ll address it during the budget process,” he said. “But we’ll also try to make what we have work.”
Town Manager Kevin Smith contributed, “The chief and I have discussed tying personnel numbers to the data from the fiscal impact statements for developers.” He explained how developers are required to submit a statement saying how their project will influence police, fire and road work.
“We don’t want to be arbitrary,” Smith said. “We want the additional personnel to be supported by data.”
A previous Council and Town Manager made arbitrary budget cuts across the board and not based on need, Chairman John Farrell observed. “They weren’t looking to our operational needs.”
Councilor Tom Dolan had two observations. “Under the medium-term goals you have listed, re-establishing your public relations program,” he said. “As the community gets to know you, it’s almost like another ‘arm’ of the police department. It’s another set of eyes.”
Dolan also wondered if Hart held post-mortems of major incidents. “Do you make use of ‘teachable moments’?” he asked.
Hart said they hold both operational and tactical debriefing. “You don’t learn a lot from success,’ he said. “You learn from when you failed or don’t do your best.”
In response to further questions about staffing, Hart said the department had 48 sworn officers in 2005. By 2009 there were 44 and that number has remained static despite expanded calls for service and expanded arrests, he said.
The department has also gone from 23 vehicles to 19. They reached a low of 16, he said, but realized 16 were too few and are now working on a goal of 21.
Gandia said the department recently began including dispatch personnel in its event scenarios. “We debrief together, and it has been one of our best-received trainings,” he said.
Councilors agreed to review the document, and Farrell told Hart and Gandia, “We are vested in getting them the training. Tell us what you need.”