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Local police say enforcement has changed during pandemic

While you may see more police cruisers out on traffic enforcement detail these days, the officers would rather not pull you over.

In the greater Peterborough area, police chiefs say calls for service are down, as is traffic, but they are remaining visible and are enforcing the laws.

In Hancock, Police Chief Andrew Wood said overall calls for service are down and police are focused on traffic enforcement and remaining visible.

“Basically, we are being more selective on our motor vehicle enforcement,” Wood said, adding when motorists are pulled over precautions against contamination are taken. “I’ve told the [officers] they have to use social distancing with masks and everything.”

Meetings with town officials have been taking place via video conferencing. And when police respond to medical calls they wait to be invited closer by EMTs.

“Things are a little bit different when we do medical calls. We do a lot of medical calls with our fire department and don’t go into the scene, of course, unless when asked to,” Wood said. “It’s more of a being cautious and keeping as little contact with people as possible.”

However, Wood is adamant that laws are still being enforced. “If there is an absolute law enforcement issue we’ll deal with it.”

But said his department is less likely to pull over a driver in a car with a broken taillight.

“We don’t want to have a huge amount of contact with a lot of people, unfortunately, it’s what we do. But chasing the broken tail lights is not something we are prioritizing for now,” Wood said. “We are still going to enforce the laws. We are just going to be a little bit more selective in how we are going to enforce those laws. If you’re speeding we are going to enforce the speeding laws … That is what the law is for — reduced accidents and crashes.”

Police are using hand sanitizer and face masks and residents are asked to call the police station to make reports as opposed to showing up at the police station.

His department would also prefer not to take anyone into custody right now, favoring the issuance of a paper summons to court as opposed to a physical arrest, Wood said, but suspects have been taken into custody.

“We’ve taken people into custody. I know, I personally had a DWI arrest that I had to deal with and you just take more precautions that you might not take,” Wood said. “We’ve been trained to take these precautions throughout our careers anyway, to minimize what we are exposed to.”

Jaffrey Police Chief Todd Muilenberg echoed Wood saying calls for service have been down through March and April and police are being more selective with traffic stops.

“Our call volume is actually down right now, It’s fairly quiet,” Muilenberg said. “We are stopping cars less frequently, mainly only pulling over cars for the main issues, maybe using lights to warn other vehicles.”

If a motorist is driving over the speed limit, but only by a little, an officer may flash their lights at the driver and if the driver slows down and acknowledges the police officer the motorist is typically not being stopped, he said. During normal times, Muilenberg said, in such a case the officer would typically pull the driver over and perhaps issue a verbal or written warning.

Now when there is a need to pull a motorist over, “We are wearing a mask and gloves, especially if we are issuing paperwork,” he said. “As long as we are keeping people in line and they are respecting the speeds that is what we are doing.”

And while calls for service are down, Muilenberg said, it is too soon to say crime is down.

“We are also not sure of the things that haven’t been reported yet,” he said.

The drop in calls and crime came in March, he said. “pretty quickly after the fear started to escalate.”

“And there are less people driving on the roads, so we have had fewer car accidents and fewer vehicle stops,” he said.

Keene police noted that they'll be out doing traffic enforcement with the aim of reducing the number of crashes on the road.

"The Keene Police Department wants to remind all that traffic crashes, to include motor vehicle versus pedestrians, have been on the rise throughout the State. We ask that all drivers obey speed limits and other motor vehicle laws," Chief Steve Russo wrote on the department's Facebook page.

The Jaffrey Police Department had 21 arrests in March 2019 and 22 arrests this March, according to numbers supplied by Muilenberg. When comparing this year to last, April did see a drop with 26 arrests in 2019 and 17 in 2020. Muilenberg said without a detailed analysis of March and April 2019 compared to those months this year he would attribute the drop in arrests to “a combination of less vehicular traffic and fewer calls for service.”

He said he did anticipate a rise in domestic violence calls, but said, his department has not seen that, at least for now.

Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard said that his department saw a drop in domestic violence calls, at first, but has now seen an uptick.

“Initially those numbers were down early on. That is beginning to change. So that is concerning to us,” Guinard said. “As time has gone on from the beginning of this thing we are starting to see changes in some people’s behavior. … We are starting to see a lot of stress and frustration in people that has had an effect on people’s behavior overall.”

While police would prefer to avoid taking anyone into physical custody right now, they are still enforcing the law and arresting people, he said.

Last week a man was arrested and charged with felony-level domestic violence assault for allegedly choking and beating a woman, Guinard said. The man was taken to the police station in a police cruiser, and was booked and held till he was transferred to the Hillsborough County House of Corrections in Manchester, he said. The man’s bail hearing will take place in the Superior Court via video conference this week, he said. Guinard said police properly protected themselves during the arrest and then cleaned the cruiser, booking room and holding cell with disinfectant after the arrest.

“Officers have been issued masks and are carrying gloves in their vehicles all the time. They have been issued safety goggles as well,” Guinard said.

The pandemic has certainly not prevented any arrests, he said, although some arrests have been conducted using paperwork to avoid taking people into custody.

“Under NH law we can issue citations in lieu of arrest in certain cases,” Guinard said. “Normal practice for all agencies is not to do that all the time. There are times you want people’s photographs, you want their fingerprints.”

There are some laws, which if broken, police cannot issue paperwork and a court date instead of a physical arrest. For instance, the violation of a domestic violence restraining order or the transportation of alcoholic beverages by a minor, he said.

While the nature of police work can often be up close and personal, officers are keeping a distance of six feet when the situation allows, he said.

The closure of the courts is a concern, Guinard said, however, they are starting to see some relief with cases moving along with the filing of pleas.

“Those that are scheduled for trial have simply been put on hold until we don’t know when,” he said. “Even arraignments are a little tricky.”

Guinard also said calls of service have been down as have traffic stops.

“It does appear to be fewer crimes, in just glancing at the daily log,” he said.

An inspection sticker that may have expired back in April, more likely than not we are not going to stop somebody for that in the month of May,” Guinard said.

Dangerous driving, however, is something his officers will stop a motorist for, but added, “I’m allowing the officers to use their discretion when it comes to traffic enforcement.”

The Peterborough Police Department saw arrests remain relatively the same when comparing police logs with 23 arrests in March both 2019 and this year and 22 arrests in April 2019 and 20 arrests this year.

The Hancock Police Department had few arrests in March and April of 2019 because the department was down two full-time officers, Wood said, so he provided arrest numbers from 2018 as well. Wood said in March 2018 the department made 10 arrests, one in 2019 and two this year, 2020. For March the department made 10 arrests in April 2018, no arrests in April 2019, and three arrests this year, 2020.

The Rindge Police Department saw a 50 percent decline in March arrests over last year with 8 arrests last year to 4 this year. But April remained relatively the same in terms of arrests, with 8 arrests this year and 9 arrests in 2019, according to department logs available online.

The New Ipswich Police Department saw arrest numbers remain relatively the same with two arrests in March 2019 and three this March. And the same amount of arrests, four, in April of 2019 and 2020, according to New Ipswich police logs available online.

Small towns like Francestown had no arrests listed in their police log for March and April both this year and last.

“Francestown is a small community and we have slow periods and we have busy periods. Of course, it’s the early, early summer period and we tend to be busier when the neighboring ski area is open,” Francestown Police Chief Michael Dowd said. “Being such a small community, arrests are infrequent. We have not had a situation where we have had an arrest during this pandemic.”

Dowd said police cruisers are regularly disinfected and officers wear masks and gloves when interacting with the public. His officers will pull motorists over for speeding or causing danger to others, he said. “We of course, we exercise discretion depending on the situation and of course if we have probable cause to arrest we will do so,” Dowd said.

Guinard said his department is “encouraging people to communicate via telephone and email and we are only doing meetings with people face-to-face only when it is absolutely necessary.”

Guinard said part of his job now is understanding what is required of his department, the community and businesses throughout the pandemic. “I spend a lot of time digesting the numerous emergency orders and answering a lot of questions to people about the emergency orders.” Especially for local businesses such as restaurants at this point, he said. “What they should and should do and what they can and cannot do.”

“On a more positive note, we have had several requests to lead processions for driveby birthday parties, for primarily children. Whatever we can do to lift people’s spirits and keep them happy,” Guinard said. “Help them work through this.”

Muilenberg said his department remains visible despite the precautions put into place and is focused on making a positive impact during this time and ready to assist the community in any way needed. Last week, the officers assisted the school district with traffic control for a teacher’s parade that included 43 cars and school buses.

“It was a really positive experience. A lot of people out on the street waving and smiling,” Muilenberg said.

Dowd said Francestown residents have been compliant with the stay-at-home order and practice social distancing.

“All and all it’s been very, very positive. It’s been a cooperative effort,” he said. “We can’t predict when this is going to end. Hopefully, there will be some light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Thanks to runner's initiative, Keene grocery employees score brand new sneakers

The Hannaford in Keene got an unusual delivery Thursday afternoon — boxes and boxes of shoes.

It was part of an initiative by David Kilgore, a runner with ties to Keene, to donate comfortable running shoes to essential workers who are on their feet all day, serving people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve already donated about 1,200 pairs to hospital workers in New York City. It’s been pretty rad,” Kilgore said, standing near a black van parked in front of the store. “And now some of the front-line workers here in Keene, which is pretty awesome too. Such an awesome community.”

Shoeboxes were stacked inside the van and on the pavement. Store employees in red polos and face masks searched for their sizes, aided by Kilgore and Keene Police Officer Kyle Macie.

“To deck out this whole staff at this store, at Hannaford’s, would be amazing,” Kilgore said. “I have like a few hundred pairs in my van today.”

Kilgore, 28, an employee and sponsored athlete with the shoe company On, lives in New York City. He spent about eight months in Keene a few years ago, during which he won the 2017 Clarence DeMar Marathon and the Pisgah Mountain Trail Races 50K in Chesterfield. His girlfriend, Molly Metivier, is also from the area, and he said he’s been up here waiting out the pandemic.

In late March, with the outbreak raging, he ran 100 miles in his hometown of Palm Bay, Fla., to raise money for new, comfortable shoes for medical personnel in New York. It had the added benefit of helping running stores in New York that were losing business due to COVID-19: The donations bought gift cards from those stores, which he then gave to the health-care workers.

The project had raised more than $16,800 as of Thursday through the website GoFundMe.

Kilgore said On donated additional shoes. The ones he handed out Thursday all came from the company.

Macie said Kilgore approached the Keene Police Department about donating the shoes to officers. Macie and some of his colleagues said they didn’t need any but thought of grocery workers who are on their feet all day. He called Hannaford, and the company was on board, Macie said.

The van drew a steady stream of employees. Natalie Ford of Alstead sat on the pavement, trying on a pair. She started working at Hannaford a month or two ago, after being laid off from another job.

“I think this is pretty spectacular,” she said from behind a clear face shield.

She wore the shoes back into the store.

In announcing his Florida 100-miler, Kilgore said he wanted a new challenge after the races he planned to compete in were canceled. The following month, he was one of more than 400 participants in a “virtual 5K” hosted by Ted’s Shoe & Sport and Tri-State Racing, which raised more than $20,000 for Keene-area businesses. (He won, with a time of 16:20.)

While in Keene, Kilgore has been running on local trails, including at Goose Pond, Surry Mountain and Mount Monadnock.

In lieu of racing this season, he said he hopes to tackle some “fastest known times” — speed records, often on longer trails. A local one he’s eyeing is the 48-mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway. (The current record seems to be 9 hours, 18 minutes, 43 seconds, set by Adam Wilcox in 2013.)

In the meantime, Kilgore said, he’s been glad to channel his passion for running into helping others during the pandemic.

“Using something that I love and care about to spread love and joy to other people is like the best thing in the world,” he said.

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An advocate for Keene, Peggy Lynch dies at 80

She was a force, driven by wanting the best for Keene.

When former City Councilor Margaret A. “Peggy” Lynch believed in something, she dug in — and if you were going to challenge her, you’d better have done your homework because she’d have done hers, Councilor Randy L. Filiault said Thursday.

Lynch, who served on the Keene City Council in the 1990s and 2000s, died Monday following a period of declining health, according to a short-notice obituary published Thursday. She was 80 years old.

Besides the City Council, Lynch was heavily involved in civic life, including serving several terms in the N.H. House of Representatives, being active in the local Democratic Party and holding membership on many boards and committees.

“She was wonderful to work with and will be sorely, sorely missed,” former Mayor Kendall W. Lane said Thursday. “She was somebody I could always count on, and she was very consistent over the years and a very hard worker.”

Lane was on the City Council with Lynch and was later elected mayor. They also served together on other boards in the community, he said.

“She was a fun person to work with. She had a sense of humor but knew when to be serious,” Lane said.

Lynch grew up in Keene, the youngest of four children. Her parents died when she was young, and she was raised by an aunt, her daughter, Tracey M. Lynch Clason, said Thursday. The city was very supportive of families like Lynch’s, she said, and Clason believes that might have had something to do with her mother’s desire to give back as much as she could.

Community and family were so important to Lynch that when her husband, William F. “Bill” Lynch, who worked for Peerless Insurance Co., was offered the opportunity to transfer back to Keene after assignments in places including Hartford and Pittsburgh, he knew he had to take it, Clason said.

The Lynches were married for 45 years and remained close after their divorce. Bill Lynch died last June at the age of 84 after suffering from dementia.

Both Bill Lynch and Peggy Lynch’s late brother, Robert L. Mallat Jr., were mayors of Keene, as was her good friend, the late Patricia Russell.

“It was a really tight-knit group,” Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark said of the Lynches, Mallats and Russells.

Clark said he had the opportunity to work with Peggy Lynch on several political campaigns, including Bill Lynch’s run for mayor.

“Nothing really much would fly until it passed Peggy first,” he said. “She was quite a gal.”

In fact, it was Bob and Norma Mallat, Bill and Peggy Lynch, and Ronald and Pat Russell who teamed up to start the city’s first Democratic Party, Pat Russell’s daughter, Pamela Russell Slack, said Thursday.

“They were lifetime friends,” said Slack, who also served on the council with Peggy Lynch.

Slack said Lynch had a very positive personality and was a role model for women.

“She became active in politics around exactly the same time my mother did. She ran for the Legislature, and she wasn’t afraid to speak up for women,” Slack said.

She added that Lynch also wasn’t afraid to tell the truth whether it was good or bad, and she had a beautiful smile.

Bill and Peggy Lynch were among the first people Philip M. Jones, a city councilor for Ward 5, said he met when he moved to Keene in 1992.

“Peggy and I always had a mutual admiration for each other,” Jones said Thursday.

He recalls that when he’d help bring groups of local 4th-grade students to the Statehouse in Concord, Peggy Lynch, a state representative at the time, would make sure she was there to talk to them.

“She was dedicated in that way to the youth,” he said.

Clason said that her mother had been living with her and her family in Westmoreland since 2017 and had remained active, with several trips into what she called “the big city” of Keene to go shopping and visit with friends.

“Her connection to friends was very much a part of her life, and up until the COVID-19 shutdown, she regularly met with groups of friends for lunch in ‘the big city’,” Clason said. “I think that says a lot for her commitment and her desire to connect with others at the age of 80.”

She also loved having family dinners, Clason noted.

She said her mother hadn’t been feeling well for the past month or so, making several visits to Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. She had just been transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon when she died. It wasn’t COVID-19-related, Clason said.

Growing up, Clason said, she remembers she and her brother, James, having to share their February birthdays with political campaigns during election seasons. That would mean they would sometimes celebrate over pancake breakfasts, as nighttime was often reserved for campaign dinners and fundraisers.

“There wasn’t a February where the house wasn’t full of volunteers working on a campaign,” she said.

Her mother was always supportive of the activities her children and grandchildren participated in — including those in which she had no experience, such as sports, Clason said. This included swimming. While she never learned how to swim herself, it was important she had a house with a pool for family and friends, Clason said.

“She loved to have people come over and use the pool, and she liked to float around in her float,” Clason said.

Besides Clason and her husband, Spencer, of Westmoreland, Lynch is survived by three other children. They are James P. Lynch and his wife, Rosanne, of Germany; Timothy W. Lynch of Gypsum, Colo.; and Kelly A. Lynch of New York City. She is also survived by her brother, Lawrence, four grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. Her brothers, Bob and Richard Mallat, died earlier.

Clason said there are many things she will miss about her mother, including her love for throwing parties and cooking.

“Living with her the past three years and just talking to her every day,” she said, “she was a good listener and fun to talk to. I’ll miss her support.”

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Keene council approves rules for 5G sites, but without moratorium

The Keene City Council has approved an ordinance regulating the placement of small-cell wireless facilities but without a proposed moratorium on the acceptance of applications for 5G facilities.

A small-cell wireless facility is an antenna that is mounted on a building or utility pole.

The council voted unanimously to approve the body of the ordinance, which will dictate where small-cell facilities can be located. However, the vote on scrapping the moratorium was much closer, with eight of the 15 councilors voting in favor.

The two votes followed months of debate over the safety of 5G facilities, which use higher-frequency radio waves that some worry could be harmful to human health. The moratorium would have expired just a few months after a report on the health effects of 5G is expected to be released by the state.

However, Councilor Kate Bosley said her thinking on that matter changed when she realized that — although there’s little reason to believe there will be a large demand for 5G facilities in Keene in the near future — it was important to get the ordinance on the books. Bosley is chairwoman of the council’s planning, licenses and development committee, which last week voted 3-2 to recommend the council abandon the moratorium idea.

“There’s no evidence at all at this point that any of these applications are coming to Keene,” Bosley said during the council’s Thursday meeting, held via the teleconferencing program Zoom. “What there is evidence for is that people are interested in putting small cells in city right-of-way for 4G use. We do need to have some guidelines. If an application came ... right now, we would not have the ability to regulate whatsoever.”

However, some councilors expressed concerns about opening the city up to 5G facilities before knowing the potential health effects of the new technology.

Councilor Robert Williams spoke in favor of the moratorium, saying Keene should wait until there’s more information on 5G from the state. He said this would provide the city with an opportunity to develop a better understanding of the issues at hand.

“I feel that as a city council, we have a responsibility to [do] due diligence here,” Williams said. “What this state process offers us is a chance to do due diligence, not just to evaluate it based on our own feelings about what the scientific validity of this is, but rather to go through a debit/credit process where all of the evidence is systematically evaluated, so we can come up with an answer that everyone can be comfortable with.”

A recent report from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection found no evidence to suggest that the electromagnetic waves associated with 5G networks are likely to impact health negatively.

Another issue raised involved the potential for a lawsuit against the ordinance. At a meeting of the planning, licenses and development committee last month, Beth Cooley, assistant vice president of state legislative affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, told committee members that the ordinance would violate state and federal law.

Cooley urged the committee to reconsider some elements of the ordinance, but members voted unanimously to recommend it anyway. At the time, City Attorney Thomas Mullins said he believed the ordinance was ready to proceed, and as for potential legal challenges, the city would “deal with those issues as they arise.”

In March, councilors had voted 10-2 to block, until January, applications from service providers hoping to launch 5G.

In other news, the council approved a request from Modestman Brewing to serve beer on its sidewalk patio, after discussing whether there would also be food available while alcohol was being served. The Main Street brewery has a small kitchen that is open during all business hours, and owner Ash Sheehan also runs the Guru Food Truck behind the brewery.

The council also approved a pair of resolutions aimed at offering a break to local businesses and residents who are facing economic struggles due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The city will abate one month’s rent to businesses that rent space from the city, and Keene property taxpayers will have a three-month grace period before they start accruing interest if they are unable to pay their taxes by the due date, which will be coming up next month.

However, City Assessor Dan Langille has stressed that it’s still important for those who are able to pay their taxes on time to do so.

Both items were unanimously recommended last week by the council’s finance, organization and personnel committee.

The council will convene for its next regular meeting on June 4 at 7 p.m. The meeting will include a public hearing to discuss the proposed 2020-21 city budget.