CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Legalizing casino gambling wouldn't endanger public safety but would in fact be a boon to law enforcement budgets, New Hampshire state police and police officers argued Monday.
At a news conference backing a Senate-passed bill legalizing up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games, the New Hampshire Troopers Association and the New Hampshire Police Association said a casino would bring no more crime than a large shopping mall and without it, critical public safety programs would suffer.
Seth Cooper, president of the troopers association, said the state's 317 troopers are stretched thin, particularly in the northern counties, where it sometimes takes more than 40 minutes to respond to a crash or more than 15 minutes to respond to a report of domestic violence. There are 31 vacant positions, and Gov. Maggie Hassan's budget, which relies on gambling revenue, calls for filling 15 of them.
"Imagine for a moment how you would feel if your loved one was on the side of the road waiting for a trooper to arrive at the scene of an accident. Or God forbid, someone you know was waiting for a trooper to come help in a domestic violence case for over 15 minutes," said.
The bill passed the Senate gambling with bipartisan support last week, but it faces a more difficult test in the House, which has historically rejected gambling legislation.
Both law enforcement organizations have backed casino bills for the last several years. Cooper said the groups carefully studied the experience of Massachusetts and other states and were reassured that a casino would not bring an influx of crime to the state. And they argued crime could actually increase without a casino.
Dave Young, president of the police association, said casino revenue could be used to restore funding to a program for troubled children. The Children in Need of Services program, or CHINS, allowed police, school officials or parents to file court petitions to get counseling and other services for kids who skip school, run away or otherwise appear headed for the criminal justice system.
"Law enforcement officers, without CHINS, are merely working as on-call counselors, putting temporary Band-Aids on problems," Young said. "Many of the problems facing youth today, if unchecked, will turn them into seasoned criminals."
Young also said without gambling revenue, police efforts to combat drugs and help the mentally ill would be impaired. He said the state's 22-member drug task force, which is a mix of state and local officers, could be cut in half without a boost in funding.