The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Funding the Granite Hammer
As cops get a boost from state grants, strategies vary

By Ryan Lessard

 Last fall the state handed out a total of about $1.2 million to more than a dozen law enforcement departments through the new Granite Hammer program passed by lawmakers last year. The program is meant to help police crack down on drug dealers, and the state’s three biggest cities are each working on strategies to make that happen.

Queen City
Manchester received the largest chunk of money, nearly $400,000. According to the grant application documents provided to the Hippo by the Department of Safety in response to a Right to Know request, the Manchester Police Department plans to use the money for three different things.
One would be to continue its so-called Operation Granite Hammer sweeps of low-level drug dealers, which are done in a partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the New Hampshire State Police. 
“We’ll go out 26 to 30 strong on a given night and we will attack the places that we know are known drug houses and we do everything we can to shut them down and arrest the dealers in real time,” said Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard during an interview in October.
Another would be Operation Cyan, a partnership with state police to beef up patrols and general police presence at crime hot spots determined by predictive analytics. The partnership adds about eight to 10 more officers in four or five cars, according to Willard.
Those are both existing programs. The eight Granite Hammer sweeps the MPD initially conducted cost $47,000 and were paid for from the department’s own budget, according to the documents.
A third initiative would be the creation of an overdose detective, someone who would respond to every fatal overdose case and try to track down the dealer who supplied the drugs involved, according to Willard.
Overall, the money is going to be used to bolster manpower and ease funding concerns. The documents say “manpower and funding shortfalls have made it impossible for detectives to properly and thoroughly investigate overdose deaths. Our agency’s detectives generally carry a caseload of 20 to 25 felony cases at any given time in addition to investigating any major crime … that may happen during the course of their shift.”
The documents are redacted in some sections that outline specific strategies and how money would be spent, but they do break down the three main initiatives into projected costs. The overdose detective would cost about $110,000, the Granite Hammer operations would cost about $120,000 and Operation Cyan would cost about $130,000. That’s out of about $361,000 the department requested. It ended up getting more than $395,000.
The document said the money would at least be used to cover overtime pay, but whether it’s used to hire new officers is unclear. However, the application does point out manpower shortages that affect the patrol division, which has been unable to fill the department’s mandatory cruiser routes. And Willard does want to hire more officers.
“When it’s about arresting drug dealers, the more people you have doing the cases, the more law enforcement officers you have in your city at one time working to lock up drug dealers, the better,” Willard said.
Criminal law professor Buzz Scherr at the University of New Hampshire School of Law is skeptical that the Granite Hammer grant program will be used purely for drug trafficking interference, as intended.
“Is this money for hole-plugging or is this money an increase?” Scherr said. “Because there is the hole-plugging problem. … That’s always a concern.”
Scherr says it’s been his experience that grants like these can be used for a variety of things when the underpinning legislation is written vaguely enough. That’s especially probable where municipalities have underfunded their law enforcement. Willard said Manchester’s police department is staring down a roughly $800,000 deficit after city aldermen signed a number of union contracts they didn’t budget for.
“Our budget is challenging,” Willard said. “We’ve been essentially flat funded since 2015. Our costs have gone up but our budget has stayed stagnant. So we know going into [2017] that we were going to be in a deficit.”
While language in the law implementing the grant program makes clear the purpose, it does not prevent the money from being used for other things like filling budget holes.
Scherr says it’s unclear whether Manchester police are conducting Granite Hammer operations they wouldn’t otherwise be conducting with this new money. And their first sweep since receiving the funds had mixed results.
According to MPD, they arrested nine people during the sweep in October but the charges were for drug possession, theft and resisting arrest, not drug dealing.
Department spokesperson Brian O’Keefe said the Granite Hammer funds are meant to generally disrupt drug trafficking, which means going after buyers as well as sellers.
“Granite Hammer is an all-encompassing enforcement effort to curb the buying and selling of illicit drugs within the city. Granite Hammer focuses on both the dealers and users in an attempt to rid the city of illegal drugs” O’Keefe said in an email.
Gate City
Meanwhile, the grant application submitted by the Nashua Police Department revealed it plans to use the roughly $249,000 it received from the state to pay for unbudgeted overtime needed to continue and strengthen two initiatives.
Its two programs are called Street Sweeper and the Combined Drug Impact Initiative. Details of how the initiatives are carried out were redacted from the documents and calls to the Nashua police department were not returned by press time.
Nashua police conducted a CDII sweep in May that netted 13 arrests for various drug crimes. Since the department was awarded the grant, it conducted six sweeps, two in November, three in December and one in January, that it called Operation Granite Hammer. The sweeps totaled 57 arrests, and at least two of those arrests were for the same person weeks apart. 
The second sweep that occurred between Nov. 17 and Nov. 22 was reportedly conducted in conjunction with the FBI.
Before getting state funding, documents supplied by the state say Nashua was paying for its unbudgeted overtime partly through forfeiture funds but that it couldn’t continue to do so for long. The department was awarded slightly less than the $270,039 it requested.
Capital City
Concord police received $74,686.30 in Granite Hammer funds, the exact amount they requested. Since then, they participated in a joint roundup that began in Laconia and later involved Gilford and Concord police and the New Hampshire Drug Task Force. 
About a dozen people were arrested; they were mostly Lakes Region residents and a few State Prison inmates. The arrested individuals were allegedly selling heroin and fentanyl.
The grant application submitted by the Concord Police Department says it plans to use the money to “conduct enhanced investigations” into opioid-related drug cases with the goal of reducing the number of overdoses in the city.  Further details about its operations were redacted by the Department of Safety.
Chief Bradley Osgood said in a phone interview that all the money will be used for overtime funds and their regular tactics are not likely to change.
“We sought additional funding really to enhance our ongoing efforts. I think when we work 40-hour weeks, we can only get so much accomplished,” Osgood said. 

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