It comes as no surprise that Portsmouth Police Chief Lou Ferland wrote a negative op-ed to Seacoast Sunday dated May 22, in response to a report from the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers on police staffing levels that called for cuts in the police force. Chief Ferland has long been a proponent of increased spending in the police department.
The so-called “independent” firm the chief has doing a review of his department, with $50,000 of our tax dollars, is comprised of fellow ex-police officers. During their public meeting at the library last week, the firm, Public Safety Strategies Group, admitted they have never recommended layoffs in a police force. Given that they have never recommended layoffs, are comprised of fellow ex-police officers, and knowing there is a strong “brotherhood” within the law enforcement community, I find it remarkable that one might view their perspective as unbiased.
As an APT member, and citizen of Portsmouth with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, I volunteered to do a report on police staffing while reviewing the budget of the department. While I didn’t author the final report that was submitted on behalf of the APT to the City Council, much of my work is used within the APT’s report. The chief claims we have an ax to grind with him, however that is not true. Our goals are to evaluate city government and encourage responsible and sustainable city spending.
My contribution to the APT report, which I will publish soon in its entirety, looks at many of the factors that contribute to crime, staffing levels compared to other departments, and the number of tourists and jobs in Portsmouth. Former Mayor Steve Marchand did a report which looked at calls for service, which the APT also used in its report, in which Marchand wrote, “the amount of activity the Portsmouth Police Department (PPD) handles is very low, and does not justify either the current levels of staffing or overtime.” Chief Ferland also criticized Marchand’s report.
One aspect of my research was to create a matrix of police per resident in 544 cities and towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, using the latest data published from the FBI. Using this data, I discovered that Portsmouth has three police officers for every 1,000 residents. By comparison, Newburyport has 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents, Hampton has 2.2, Dover has 1.5, Kittery has 1.9, and York has 1.9. In terms of actual police numbers, Portsmouth has 62 officers, Hampton has 34, Dover has 44 and Newburyport has 33 officers. According to the data provided by the FBI, Portsmouth ranks in the top 25 of 544 communities for number of police per resident in all Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Demographic factors that the FBI has identified as contributing to crime levels were also evaluated for this report. Those factors include education level, income level, poverty level, unemployment and median age. Portsmouth was then compared to other communities based on these factors. A subset of 25 communities was then extracted based on factors such as proximity to Portsmouth and demographically similar qualities. A larger list of communities will be available with my final report. Kittery for example, has just under 10,000 residents, borders downtown Portsmouth, has thousands of workers at the shipyard and hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to its outlet stores each year. Particularly during the summer, the number of people in Kittery can be greater than 100 percent of the population, yet Kittery has substantially fewer police per resident than Portsmouth. Newburyport has an almost identical resident and tourist profile as Portsmouth. Yet ,while Portsmouth does have many more hotel rooms, as the chief pointed out, he forgot to look at the occupancy rate. He also forgot to mention that Newburyport has approximately 1,000 recreational boat slips and moorings, while Portsmouth has fewer than 100. This summer boater population in Newburyport, along with the inns and hotels, compared in relationship as a percentage of Newburyport’s population, is what the chief should have used when comparing visiting, overnight tourists in both cities. Hampton, which gets more tourist traffic than Portsmouth, has fewer full-time police per resident than Portsmouth (Hampton at 2.2 and Portsmouth at 3.0) — Hampton at 34 full-time officers and Portsmouth at 62 full-time officers.
The estimated number of tourists and number of workers that come to Portsmouth was used in my report. It is important to gauge the number of people who could be in a community at any given point in time, outside of special events which already have overtime officers staffed. It would be inaccurate to count a tourist or resident more than once — like counting them at a restaurant, then the parking garage, then at a hotel room and visiting a store. For example, there are 7,000 jobs at Pease. Of the 20,000 Portsmouth residents, 14,000 are employed. It would be incorrect to assume all 7,000 jobs at Pease employ non-Portsmouth residents, hence double-counting Portsmouth residents who happen to be employed at Pease.
The chief is right in suggesting that a proper evaluation of the police force staffing levels must look at many forms of data. To make sure it was doing that, the APT report used data from various sources, including the Marchand report and my report. I, along with another member of the APT, met with the chief in January to discuss different aspects of this report, which was under way at that time. I have presented this report in person to city councilors who were interested in it, and will make this available for the general public so that everyone can read it and draw their own conclusions based on its merits.
Eric Crago is a resident of Portsmouth.