The scared woman sitting at “Response to Sexual and Domestic Violence,” a women’s shelter in Coos County, hasn’t heard Gov. Hassan talk about the need for more troopers in the North Country.
“I have heard of people in the North Country waiting for more than an hour for the nearest trooper to arrive. This is simply unacceptable,” Hassan told a group in Millsfield recently.
She said her budget – now being considered by the legislature - would add fifteen new troopers statewide.
But the woman sitting at the Response office knows all about the terror of desperately needing help and not getting it.
Her eyes have a teary film but she doesn’t cry. One hand has a rapid, tiny tremor as she describes her husband.
“He has a terrible temper and a drinking problem,” she says. “Numerous times he has threatened to kill us.”
One night last fall things were much worse than normal.
“My husband had body-slammed me, I went backwards into the woodpile and ended up breaking my vertebrae,” she says, asking that neither her name nor her town be used.
That town has a small, part-time police force.
The only help she could count on was Troop F, which covers Grafton and Coos Counties.
That night it took a while.
“Waiting for over an hour for the police to make it when you don’t know if he is going to pull a gun on you and kill you is pretty scary,” she says.
They arrested the husband and the couple is now separated.
Governor Hassan is right when she says it can sometimes take an hour for a trooper to arrive, says Todd Landry, a lieutenant and the current commander of Troop F, which is based in Twin Mountain.
Landry’s troop covers all of Grafton and Coos Counties, about 3,500 square miles.
He has 24 troopers for road patrol. Seven days a week. Twenty-four hours a day.
But there’s time off.
Landry admits coverage is thin.
“What I am lacking is eight troopers to have ample coverage for all the area, 24/7,” he says. “It is a balancing act. We have to balance available personnel and the areas that we cover.”
That’s no surprise to Tim Hayes who spent 24 years with the State Police in the North Country before retiring as a sergeant and assistant commander of Troop F.
Over two decades, he says, every lieutenant tried to get more troopers.
He concedes there are more people and more crime south of the notches. But he counters that there are also more resources. Towns usually have police departments.
That’s not the case up north.
Lt. Landry pulls out a map of Coos and does some quick calculations.
“In Coos alone there are 31 towns or unincorporated areas where we are the primary law enforcement,” he says.
Some departments are part-time. They close down at night and have calls sent to Troop F.
Plus, troopers in the North Country aren’t just looking for speeders or drunk drivers. Calls range from a burglar alarm on a remote vacation home to a knock-down domestic fight. They also investigate mosf of the crimes to which they respond.
Having adequate coverage gets trickier when something happens that requires more than one trooper such as serious traffic accident. In such cases troopers converge from all over. The Troop F dispatcher plays a kind time-speed-distance chess, trying to match resources with the most demanding needs.
The troopers don’t like the situation either, says Hayes, the former sergeant.
“It is hard on the trooper to know he has three calls waiting and it has got to be really frustrating for the person who called for the help to be told ‘I’ll get there as quick as I can, but it might be a while,’” he says.
And there is an issue with the safety of the troopers who work alone and may be a long way from help should a problem occur, says Hayes.
But there is no standard for the number of troopers needed in a rural area, says Darryl Wood is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Washington State University. The problem is that rural areas just vary so much in population density, crime and topography.
“There are places in New Jersey that are considered rural by the people who live in New Jersey,” he says.
Wood says people who have grown up in rural areas understand it may take a while for police to respond. On the other hand newcomers – moving from urban areas perhaps to retire – are likely to be less tolerant.
Wood says research indicates longer response times have impacts ranging from the obvious – such as reducing the chance of catching a burglar - to making the victim of spousal abuse feel more helpless and vulnerable while empowering the abuser.
“It makes the victim feel more isolated, like there is less that can be done,” he says.
That’s a serious problem in Coos, says Deborah Haynes, who works for Response, the women’s shelter.
And, Jeanne Robillard, who runs The Support Center at Burch House, a women’s shelter in Northern Grafton County, says victims constantly worry about how long it will take for the police to arrive.
Sometimes, if the response to a first call is too long, they’re afraid to call a second time because it could make things worse.
“If they get caught making that 911 call by the abuser and there is an altercation in process an hour and a half is an awful long time to wait for intervention and many things can happen,” she says.
After the speech in Millsfield Hassan declined to predict how many of those 15 new troopers would be sent to the North Country.
“What I will do is rely on the state - work with the state police folks - to make sure we have acceptable response time in the North Country,” she told an NHPR reporter.
In an email the Commissioner of Safety, John J. Barthelmes, recently told NHPR the 15 new positions “would be used to fill vacant patrols across the state.”
He said the North Country is “one of our priorities and the North Country will see additional troopers” if the positions are funded.
The House has approved money for those 15 troopers. The budget is now before the Senate.