OSSIPEE — None of the Carroll County police chiefs surveyed by this newspaper say they are backing incumbent county sheriff Chris Conley in the Republican primary. But that doesn't mean all the chiefs are against Conley. Some declined to comment and others didn't answer the survey at all.
Conley says his efforts increase the level of professionalism between law enforcement agencies have made some chiefs uncomfortable.
The New Hampshire state primary is Sept. 11. Conley, of Wolfeboro, will be competing against Domenic Richardi, of Conway. The winner of the primary will face Independent candidate Francis Lord.
Most of the local police chiefs gave The Conway Daily Sun their candid opinions of the candidates in exchange for anonymity. Six chiefs favored Richardi, four declined to comment or had no opinion and three chiefs didn't return calls for comment.
Former Effingham police chief Joe Collins, who resigned recently and started a new job as police chief in Gilmanton, went on record. Collins was one of the six chiefs who favored Richardi.
"I support Domenic Richardi 100 percent," said Collins, who described Conley as "impossible to get along with."
Collins said he liked that Richardi would restart the sheriff's office's traffic-accident reconstruction service and also the Carroll County Drug Task Force. Both had disbanded under Conley.
Collins said Conley badgered him about about having a list of officers that Conley could call 24 hours per day to respond to emergency calls.
The Carroll County Sheriff oversees emergency communications center that dispatches for many police departments.
Conley said he wants to make sure that emergency calls are handed off as quickly as possible and that he has experienced communications failures with Effingham police. For example, last summer, county dispatch received a 9-1-1 emergency call about an episode of domestic violence and the dispatcher couldn't reach the Effingham police officer who she thought was assigned to cover the town.
"Here's a 9-1-1 call in progress, we're told this officer is on call, we call and we get a voice mail," said Conley. "Then, fortunately we were able to send deputy sheriffs, which was unplanned."
Later, Conley said he learned that the officer was on vacation and Collins was out of town during the incident.
"It's a matter of knowing the standard and always seeking to improve professionalism, especially in these shared responsibilities," said Conley adding his ethic has made "some people" uncomfortable.
Conley said he's been pleased with the call hand-offs this year.
But Collins said Conley is being unfair because Effingham Police Department only has one full-time officer and two part-time officers who alternate weeks where they provide eight hours of coverage. Collins said he doesn't have enough manpower to cover the town 24 hours per day.
"We're stretched thin already," said Collins.
Conley said he asked Collins to plan his coverage, and that could include having scheduled times where the State Police or sheriff's office are on duty in Effingham.
"If the public ever knew that at 5 a.m. I had to stuggle to find a police officer to take a call they would be very concerned," said Conley. "They don't have to be concerned because I took care of it."
According to Collins, Conley called and demanded an exit interview as Collins was departing for Gilmanton. Collins replied he didn't have time to meet. Conley allegedly replied that Collins would meet with him "one way or another."
"I feel he was trying to intimidate me," said Collins.
Conley denied trying to intimidate Collins. The sheriff said Collins attacked him in a local newspaper story before he left for Gilmanton. Conley wanted to talk with Collins personally before responding to Collins' criticism at an Effingham selectmen's meeting. Conley said he'd have preferred to solve the issue with the chief rather than having to address the selectmen.
Collins had no opinion about the county attorney race.
The chiefs who favored Richardi had various complaints about Conley. Some said he didn't support the small towns. Some said Conley did away with an accident investigation service which they found handy.
"Working with Conley has been a nightmare," said one chief who is a long-time supporter of Richardi.
Some of the chiefs described Conley as a "nitpicker" and something of a bully who would tell them how they should be running their departments.
"He picks fights with every person I can possibly think of," said another chief of Conley
Some were also concerned with Conley for his support of what they say is "radical" organization called the County Sheriff's Project. The Sheriff's Project's website says the organization is dedicated to "enforcing the bill of rights and protecting people's liberties."
"I am not at all in favor of this right wing Tea Party Republican thing," a chief said, "and Conley is part of that."
When asked about his connections to political groups that the chiefs said they didn't like, such as one led by former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, Conley said Mack asked him to serve on the board of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which was formed in January. Conley described the organization as nonpartisan. He said the purpose of Mack's organization is to support sheriffs and police officers.
Mack is an outspoken critic of the federal government and champion of states' rights. Conley said Mack does discuss the proper roles for state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, which can be confusing. However, Conley said Mack wasn't radically anti-federal government.
Some chiefs seemed to resent Mack's organization, which they say claims to be more constitutional than other law enforcement agencies that don't participate. These chiefs said they all take their oaths to protect the constitution very seriously.
A video on the County Sheriff's Project's website shows a sheriff from Long Island who believes he has the power to stop the federal government from enforcing portions the National Defense Authorization Act. According to ABC News, the NDAA allows the military to detain American citizens without charge if they are suspected of terrorism.
One chief said Conley shows up unprepared at county meetings, which are videotaped.
A chief, who offered no opinion of the sheriff's race, said Conley did shorten the menu of services the sheriff's office would provide but he doesn't hold that against Conley.
Conley said the county shouldn't be offering traffic-accident reconstruction services because it's time and cost prohibitive. Similarly, Conley felt the K-9 unit was too time intensive. The county sheriff's office never had a certified traffic-accident reconstruction expert in the first place. The traffic accident investigation equipment that the county does have is outdated. Accident reconstruction should be done by state police because they are the "subject matter experts," said Conley.
Disbanding the drug task force was up to the chiefs, said Conley who says his agency has been aggressive in the fight against drugs.
One chief said he was undecided but was leaning for Richardi. The Conway Daily Sun counted this chief's answer as a vote for Richardi.
"I'm really on the fence," said the police chief who is leaning for Richardi. He doesn't support sheriff Conley, but "I'm not sure if the other two are going to do any better."
Lord has been out of law enforcement for a long time, the chief said. That chief has heard that some people didn't like Richardi's management style when he was a lieutenant at the sheriff's office.
At a recent editorial board meeting, Richardi said Conley has poor relationships with the other law enforcement agencies in the county.
Conley's response to Richardi's statements seemed to change over the course of his editorial board interview.
At first, Conley accused Richardi of engaging in "character assassination." But Conley changed course when told that The Conway Daily Sun spoke to local police chiefs, under the condition of anonymity. Some of the chiefs confirmed Richardi's allegations while others declined to share their opinions.
"If you want somebody that's in the business of liking, I'd suggest my opponent is the stronger candidate," said Conley. "If you want to have somebody who is obligated to the citizens and can do the job as sheriff, I'm the man."
Conley questioned the validity of The Conway Daily Sun's poll because the local chiefs weren't on record.
When asked how important it is to have strong relationships with the other police departments, Conley replied nobody has a stronger relationship with local law enforcement than him. Conley said he's willing to talk with the chiefs about any issues they have. Further, Conley said he has hundreds of documents detailing the coordination efforts he's had with local police chiefs and other governmental and non-governmental organizations. Conley said no chief has ever complained to him formally or informally.
As for the Democratic primary for county attorney, three chiefs favored Robin Gordon, of Tamworth, and two favored Diana Bolander of Wolfeboro. Four chiefs had no opinion and three didn't answer the survey. One chief said he would take Republican candidate Stephen Murray of Wolfeboro over the two Democratic candidates.
The three chiefs who favored Gordon said she did a good job in her 12 years in office from 1999 to 2011.
One chief, who favors Bolander, was not impressed with Gordon's record.
Another chief had praise for Bolander who works as a private practice defense attorney.
"She's a bulldog, and if she works that way for the prosecution that would be good," said a chief.
One chief said he had nothing against Bolander but said Gordon was a "perfect fit" for the office.
"We had a great working relationship with her," said another chief of Gordon.