- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The only police training center in New Hampshire will face an uncertain future if lawmakers fail to pass a bill that would make it a state-funded agency.

The New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council has been self-funded through a percentage of speeding and court fines since its inception in the early 1970s. But that revenue has dropped dramatically - from $3.8 million in 2006 to $2.8 million in 2015, according to council figures.

Gov. Maggie Hassan last week urged passage of a bill that would allocate $3.5 million to the council in fiscal 2017.

Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso, council director, said that if the funding doesn’t come through, the number of officers trained annually could be cut by a third or more.

“If the bill doesn’t pass, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Colarusso said. “The ‘what-ifs’ are not good.

“Police retire at a rate of about 180 officers a year statewide,” he said. “We train about 180 officers a year. If we cut one class - about 60 officers - that’s a critical shortfall.”

Colarusso said there are several reasons revenues from speeding tickets dropped noticeably.

“The modern generation of police officers are writing more warnings than summonses,” he said. He also noted that some cases are being plea bargained to save overtime costs of having officers go to court.

And, he said, many people don’t have the ability to pay and judges are substituting community service in lieu of fines.

All New Hampshire police officers - state, county and local - go through the council’s 16-week training program.

At a hearing on the bill last week before the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said training is more important than ever to deal with everything from the drug trade to domestic violence calls. He cited the death last week of Merrimack High School graduate Ashley Guindon on her first shift with the Prince William County force, who was gunned down responding to a domestic violence call.

“They’re protecting the public,” said D’Allesandro, the bill’s prime sponsor. “They’re protecting us.”

In addition to dwindling revenues, Colarusso said more than $5 million of the council’s surplus funds have been swept away and into the state’s general fund during recent lean years. The council has attempted to cope by closing a North Country satellite training facility and cutting staff in anticipation of a $700,000 shortfall over the next two years.

At last week’s hearing, Rep. Len DiSesa of Dover - a rookie lawmaker and veteran police officer of 25 years, said the state owes its police officers the best training possible and lauded the “superlative” training he received from the council.

“Remove the Damocles sword hovering over its neck for years,” DiSesa urged.

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