Counting Cops, Part 4
Special 5-part series produced by Concord Monitor, a member of
Capt. Brendan Davey was born into a New Hampshire State Police family. His dad was a sergeant and assistant troop commander, and after earning a degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire, Davey jumped into a green cruiser himself.
“I grew up on the road, as we call it,” he said, spending 16 years as a patrol trooper and sergeant before moving to his first role at headquarters in 2016. Now he is captain of the quality assurance and compliance unit, a new group working to bring the State Police’s policies in line with federal accreditation requirements while making sure the agency is in line with state training requirements.
Since Davey joined the state’s largest law enforcement agency in the early 2000s, its ranks have increased nearly 30% from 303 sworn personnel in 2001 to 393 by 2020.
However, during that time the number of traditional state troopers stationed in barracks declined from about 300 to 276 at the end of 2021. The increases are primarily due to the addition of new specialized units like the Mobile Enforcement Team and the inclusion of the state’s Marine Patrol.
“You’ll actually see that the number of troopers have gone down at the same time that our specialties and the expectations on us in terms of the job complexity has done nothing but increase,” Davey said.
With growth comes increased cost.
The operating budget for the State Police has increased about 73% between fiscal years 2000 and 2020, from $32 million to $56 million. In 2020, state police funding represented 3% of the state’s general fund operating budget.
“To get more people costs more money. We are a state that is very careful with our money,” Davey said. “I would say that publicly we enjoy overall what I think is great support. That said, the ability to convince those who have the responsibility of managing the state’s budget that we need more people and for the following reasons is an uphill battle.”
While state safety officials say the demands on their time have increased, they say what’s really driving growth are new responsibilities to police state offices, bodies of water and vehicles.
In 2013, the State Police became responsible for Marine Patrol, which polices the state’s waterways. As of 2021, there were 44 troopers in Marine Patrol.
The State Police also began providing security at the New Hampshire Hospital complex about nine years ago, and formed Troop G, which replaced a previous New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles police force and regulates commercial trucking, as well as large vehicles and shipping loads.
Specialization has driven staffing and more specialty units, which have grown from part-time units to full-time ones. Some of those units include crisis negotiations, narcotics investigations, cyber-crime, mobile enforcement team, a polygraph unit and special weapons and tactics. Ten out of 15 specialty units that have emerged since the 1970s require full-time staffing.
Davey said the complexity of law enforcement has grown over the past two decades, both in terms of demands for transparency and new technology. While an arrest for driving under the influence used to mean handwritten notes on the back of a summons, now troopers might need to create a 10-page single-spaced narrative report.
Meanwhile, changes in other rural police departments have impacted the State Police, which has jurisdiction over New Hampshire towns with fewer than 3,000 residents.
Lieutenant Michael Kokoski is the commander of Troop C, which covers 38 towns between Cheshire and Sullivan counties. Some larger towns and cities like Keene and Claremont have their own police departments, but some towns don’t have a police department at all, or have one but lack 24-hour coverage.
“The State Police was created to provide police coverage for towns that were so small that they didn’t have their own police departments and in the rural areas,” Kokoski said.
When towns vote to disband or eliminate their police department, state troopers step in to provide coverage. In some cases, towns contract with the State Police for details, where troopers patrol the town during certain hours.
Croydon eliminated its police department in 2020 and Kokoski said he fielded questions at a town meeting about response times and how much his agency could focus on the town. The State Police will be there when needed, he told Croydon residents, but it lacks the resources to have a trooper in town as often as a local officer would be.
“For every local officer who used to be there who is no longer there, that is potentially work that gets down-shifted to the troopers. And as a result of that, it’s always a prioritization game,” he said.
Kokoski said his troopers were heavily taxed last year after Winchester, a town with a population above that 3,000 threshold, found itself with a police chief but no officers.
The other big change is the types of calls that troopers receive. Davey and Kokoski agree that there is a noticeable uptick in calls related to mental health crises, especially from psychological issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Why are we sending police officers to these things? That’s not my question. That’s the question I’ve heard asked,” Davey said. “We don’t have doctorates in psychology.”
Growth and diversity
The state’s most professional and largest law enforcement agency is still very white and male-dominated.
As of April 2022, out of 360 state police troopers, including members of state office campus patrol and Marine Patrol, there were 30 women, making up 8.3% of the sworn ranks. In an organization that is 95% white, there were four Black troopers, eight Hispanic troopers, three Asian troopers, and two troopers who reported two or more races.
“We are wide open to people of all stripes,” Davey said. “We want people of wildly varied backgrounds, all kinds of good people, but they have to be the right kind of people to handle this work.”
Davey, who led the State Police’s recruitment unit until February, said that the agency is seeking to diversify. He said the State Police have had more success in recent hiring cycles, recruiting more women, along with a Vietnamese immigrant and second-generation Dominican immigrant. To attract talent, troopers return to their alma maters to talk to potential candidates.
The New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council restricts the agency from hiring applicants with felony backgrounds or who have been dishonorably charged from the military, but Davey said they have hired people with less than rosy pasts.
“We’ve got people who have some really interesting stories who turn their lives around,” he said. “Those are people with life experience that helps them to relate to the public they serve.”
Lately, the State Police has faced struggles in hiring and staffing with 50 to 60 vacancies across the agency.
Kokoski estimated in June that he was missing six troopers out of a total of about 30. Law enforcement agencies across the state complain of the difficulty in hiring qualified candidates who want to be police officers or troopers.
“Individual communities certainly need to have a discussion and determine what they want, what they expect from their police department,” Kokoski said. “There just needs to be the honest discussion and recognition that our resources are finite, and we cannot be everything to everybody.”
KEY POINTS BOX:
- The State Police — New Hampshire’s largest law enforcement agency — increased its ranks by nearly 30% from 303 sworn personnel in 2001 to 393 by 2020.
- The increases are primarily due to the addition of new specialized units like the Mobile Enforcement Team and the inclusion of the state’s Marine Patrol.
- When smaller towns do away with their police forces, those duties often fall to State Police.
- As recently as April, the number of troopers has decreased to 360, but the agency has 50 to 60 vacancies, officials say.