Fenwick agrees to assist with South Bethany police shortage
The Fenwick Island Police Department is the third police agency that has agreed to provide paid police coverage to South Bethany. It is a temporary arrangement as their northern neighbor rebuilds its own full-time police department.
The Fenwick Island Town Council unanimously approved the agreement on May 3.
“It’s what neighbors do. … They help each other when they’re in trouble,” Fenwick Island Police Chief Bill Boyden said simply. “About 17 years ago, we had kind of the same thing, where the chief left and shortly thereafter the department just sort of fell apart, and officers left.”
Boyden said Fenwick’s patrol agreement will mirror the rates being charged to South Bethany by the Ocean View Police Department. (Ocean View is charging the individual officer’s hourly rate times 1.5, plus $25 per hour for the use of the patrol car, and 10 percent of the employee’s rate to cover administrative costs.)
Fenwick officials hesitated to publicly share actual numbers on the cost until the South Bethany Town Council formally approves the agreement (likely at their May 10 meeting).
Delaware State Police are also working shifts in the town at a flat rate of $91 per hour.
Any Fenwick and Ocean View officers who work a SBPD shift will actually be sworn in as a South Bethany officer, so they have full authority to enforce the law in that municipality.
“We’ll be patrolling the street, assisting motorists and doing everything as if it was a South Bethany officer,” said Boyden. “And it’s temporary. We’re hoping it will be back up and running in the next couple months.”
Between 2018 and 2019, all but one officer left the SBPD, leaving the Town to find a new chief, full-time officers and seasonal staff. Now, they have one regular officer; one recruit in the police academy; one out-of-state officer who is currently gaining Delaware credentials; and one temporary administrator (a retired Pennsylvania police chief who will guide the department, recommend improvements and help with hiring).
The public will always be covered in an emergency, officials emphasized. Local police forces already have a mutual aid agreement, which means someone will always respond in an emergency. State police or Bethany Beach officers might stabilize a situation in Ocean View if the OVPD can’t arrive immediately.
For the regular patrols, the SBPD will post a schedule of open shifts. With the other police chiefs’ approval, outside officers will log in to a website to claim those shifts.
“Our police officers will have to do it on their days off. They can’t work back-to-back shifts,” explained Fenwick Town Manager Terry Tieman, who said she does not believe the additional work will stretch Fenwick officers thin. “I think there’s no concern because the chief has to approve it. … We think it will be fine.”
In April, OVPD officers not only patrolled but helped update some of South Bethany’s reporting systems. Meanwhile, Delaware State Police tackled traffic enforcement on Route 1, where drivers tend to speed through the 35 mph zone if no one’s watching. South Bethany will receive its own traffic fine money during paid patrols.
“This is a short-term plan until the Town has filled all open officer positions and recruited a new chief of police,” stated South Bethany Mayor Tim Saxton.
(There appears to be no movement on creating a similar formal agreement with the Bethany Beach Police Department, besides the existing mutual aid agreement for emergencies.)
“The support and cooperation of all local municipalities in coming to the aid of South Bethany has been an amazing experience,” said Saxton, thanking the surrounding communities. “We will be forever grateful to each of them and, if ever necessary, will return the same aid without question. The leadership of all our local communities clearly have demonstrated their appreciation of our need to support one another.”
Saxton said he hopes to have a new chief hired by the start of summer. The Town has begun investigating and interviewing several of the 34 applicants. Once hired, that person could continue the process of filling vacancies.
By Laura Walter