COMMUNICATION NOTICE 2022-3
UNMARKED VEHICLES DISCUSSION SCHEDULED FOR BOS MEETING 1-24-22
At our last meeting during public comment Mr. Cabral made comments that he was hearing concerns from “His People” about unmarked town vehicles assigned to certain employees/departments. The Board of Selectmen asked that this issue be discussed at the next Selectmen's meeting. I thought it would be helpful if the Fire and Police Chief provided the Selectmen with background information/explanation why unmarked vehicles are commonly used today by Litchfield and neighboring communities. Please review the explanations provided below. If you have questions before the meeting or would like both Chiefs to be present (or attend virtually) let me know and I will make arrangements.
ACTING POLICE CHIEF SCOTTI RESPONSE
All of our unmarked vehicles are Chevrolet Traverses, two are 2020's and one is 2021. These vehicles were chosen to be unmarked for various reasons. Having these vehicles unmarked allows for them to be utilized in undercover operations/ drug investigations. This past summer, we utilized all of these vehicles for that case, which led to the seizure of approximately $12k. When I was the detective, I used my unmarked car for a drug operation which led to the seizure of 250 grams of fentanyl in town as well. In addition to these highlighted cases, these cars are used for surveillance for search warrant execution and intelligence gathering. Currently, these cars are assigned to Detective Rider, Chief Sargent and I. All of us are required to respond 24/7 365 days per year, depending on the incident or for various after hours meetings. All of these vehicles are driven approximately 20 miles to and from our homes, but the Chief and I have the ability to use the vehicles for personal business as listed in our contracts. All of these vehicles are equipped with blue emergency lights, wig wags, sirens, radios, active shooter kit, m4 rifle, medical equipment along with other crime scene and police operations related gear. Marking these vehicles would undoubtedly render them ineffective for use on undercover, surveillance or information gathering operations. As for the Chief and Captain's vehicles, these vehicles are also used for personal business by the aforementioned parties. This includes having our family members in the vehicle during off duty hours. Given the anti-police sentiment permeating the country right now, it would be reckless to have markings on the side of this vehicle as it would potentially put our families in danger. It would also advertise for would-be thieves to target the vehicle as there are weapons within. It would also make it a target for vandalism as well. It is an industry standard to leave these types of vehicles unmarked and there is no agency in Southern NH that marks these vehicles. Marking them defeats the purpose of them, to have the ability to be covert. Please let me know if you need anything else added to this.
Captain Thomas Scotti
Litchfield Police Department
FIRE CHIEF FRAITZL RESPONSE
The only "unmarked" vehicle in the fire department is a 2007 Chevy Tahoe which is for the most part exclusively used by me. I travel 13 miles to and from my home 2-3 days per week to the fire station in addition to incidents outside of those times when I am not at the station. When I am on vacation for any length of time the vehicle is left at the station for use by Deputy Nicoll. It is not typically used by department staff and when it is, it is with my or the deputies knowledge and permission. While the vehicle is "unmarked" it does have a permanent (government) plate as any other municipally registered vehicle. Historically, the marking of the vehicle has been at the discretion of the fire chief. Some Chiefs have had limited, some have had significant markings. As times change, so has the use, functions and need for markings. The current vehicle has emergency warning lights, siren and is equipped with two mobile and several portable radios, gas meter, thermal imaging camera, fire extinguisher, medical equipment/AED, Rescue Task force (active shooter) gear and incident management capabilities. In addition it carries my issued personal protective equipment and SCBA. This equipment is all extremely expensive (estimated in excess of $40,000) and costly to replace should it be stolen or vandalized from a marked vehicle. In fact a couple of years ago Bedford Fire had equipment stolen from a fully marked Deputy Chiefs vehicle while it was parked in his driveway overnight.
This vehicle is in the process of being replaced with a 2022 Chevrolet Silverado special service vehicle which will have an enclosed cap and all the current equipment transferred to it. The cap being installed has been specifically spec'd with a locking system tied to the truck lock so that there is no chance of the cap being inadvertently left unlocked and equipment unsecured. As the fire chief I am expected to respond to significant incidents at any given time 24 / 7 / 365. I frequently respond when not on duty to incidents oftentimes only to be canceled by a call from the on-call officer because the incident is not as dispatched and/or minor in nature. To facilitate this, my employment contract allows for personal use of the vehicle to accomodate a timely response. Having a marked vehicle when out to dinner, grocery shopping, or any other time it is used for personal use adds to the potential for vandalism or theft from the vehicle. More concerning to me is this use could raise issues of improper use, when in fact the use is fully allowed by contract. Like with law enforcement, it is very common for fire chiefs' vehicles to be unmarked for all of the reasons listed and then some. To the best of my knowledge, Londonderry, Salem, Bedford, Goffstown, Merrimack, and Derry fire chiefs operate unmarked vehicles. Further the Nashua Chief and Asst. Chief as well as the Hudson Chief and two Assistant Chiefs vehicles are all unmarked as are the vehicles operated by the State Fire Marshal's office. It would seem that as fire chiefs are replacing their assigned vehicles, they are moving to the unmarked concept. So we are not unlike many of our surrounding communities.
I firmly believe that while one or two people may have concerns with the vehicle being unmarked, many more will have issues with a marked vehicle being used for personal use despite it being a contractual agreement approved by the BOS. Marking the police and fire chiefs vehicles is an unnecessary expense, serves no functional purpose, nor does it improve the ability to do our job.