I think I was a good luck charm for the Stratham Police Department on a Friday night in January. During a ride-along with Chief John Scippa on Jan. 25, the most exciting thing to happen during our 8-hour shift was a woman pretending to get sick to get out of a ticket.
While most people might be disappointed by not witnessing any mayhem, I’m glad it was a quiet night in this bedroom community of 7,000 residents. But I’m not going to lie, responding to a fire or bagging a bad guy gets my adrenaline pumping. However, that Friday night’s ride-along in Stratham goes to show that here on the Seacoast we live in one of the safest areas in the country. I’ll take that over mayhem and save my adrenaline rush for the next action flick I see.
Although Jan. 25 was fairly uneventful, I learned a lot about what goes into the operation of a police force and how those in law enforcement do what they do each and every day. For one, they work a lot of overtime. Although he’s in a salaried position, Chief Scippa’s typical day involves arriving at the Stratham police station between 8 and 9 a.m. and not returning home to his family in Exeter until 8 at night. Officer Chuck Law usually starts his shift at 10 p.m. Fridays but started four hours earlier Jan. 25 to help cover what the chief described as a deficit.
The Stratham Police Department currently operates with 10 full-time officers and two part-time officers and it’s not enough. It would be ideal to have two additional full-time officers, Scippa said.
Back in December, Scippa told the Exeter News-Letter that over the past six months the force had lost four officers. And while the chief has hired two officers to replace them, the department still needs more officers.
“Hiring a police officer requires, through New Hampshire law and administrative rules, a significant amount of time and effort and resources as compared to hiring somebody to do other types of jobs,” said Scippa.
It becomes a problem when police departments have only one officer on duty. Especially if one officer is busy booking an individual charged with DWI and another call comes in. A DWI arrest could take 2-3 hours from start to finish, the chief said.
With 16,000 cars driving along routes 108 and 33 in Stratham each day, motor vehicle stops are frequent. I’m concerned about the “dead zone” — an area where radio communication is non-existent and cell service is spotty at best — around the Greenland/Stratham town line on Route 33.
On Jan. 25 we stopped a motorist for speeding at 61 mph in a 45-mph zone. After Chief Scippa obtained the motorist’s license and registration, he had no radio signal to check on the driver’s background or if he had any outstanding warrants.
This leaves law enforcement in a dangerous situation if they can’t obtain any background on the driver. However, Chief Scippa clarified that every community has these areas — which could be a radius of just a few feet — of spotty communication and it shouldn’t overly concern the public. Many of us have experienced this when we drop a cell phone call while driving through town. Scippa said improvements to radio towers or communication systems won’t necessarily correct the problem.
And I learned the importance of investing in public safety — whether it be for improved communication or additional police officers. It should be a top priority for any community.
Perhaps my biggest take-away from the ride-along with Chief Scippa – and from my recent experience with Leadership Seacoast’s Criminal Justice Day – is the positive impact that comes from creating connections within a community. Personal connections are the biggest and most effective way to bring about change. When you get to know people on that level, it’s easier to work together to bring about change and impact our community.