OV, SB approve police partnership
Two towns have signed on, but Fenwick Island isn’t quite ready to approve a three-town police partnership. The Fenwick Island Town Council has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, Jan. 9, at 10 a.m. to further discuss and possibly approve a mutual-aid memorandum-of-understanding (MOU).
The MOU would allow police officers to provide rapid assistance to each other without having to be dispatched by the SUSCOM 911 call center. Under the agreement, police officers in each town would be sworn into the police forces of all three towns: Fenwick, Ocean View and South Bethany.
The agreement is not the makings of a regional police force, but an exercise in cooperation “with our neighbors” to improve police coverage, said Ocean View Mayor Walter Curran.
“We are [still] having our own police force,” emphasized South Bethany Mayor Tim Saxton. “Most of the time they will be here, unless they’re requested to go do assistance in another town.”
The agreement was proposed as an extension of the three police departments’ cooperation during a staffing shortage in the South Bethany Police Department this past summer, when their number dropped to a single officer at its lowest point.
Ocean View unanimously approved the new agreement in December, as did South Bethany, with officials there having believed that both of the other towns had already signed on.
However, the Fenwick council voted unanimously on Dec. 6 to postpone discussion and action on the MOU after Council Member Vicki Carmean said she had concerns about it.
At the December meeting, as Town Manager Terry Tieman was about to have Fenwick Police Chief William Boyden discuss the mutual assistance agreement, Carmean interrupted, saying, “Excuse me — with all due respect, I’m going to ask that council postpone the discussion of this for another time.”
Asked to explain her concerns, Carmean said they involved “some of the side issues” around the agreement but declined to elaborate, only alluding to “the time” dedication and “where our officers are going to be.”
She said she felt that “a couple” of the other council members shared her concerns and asked that the chief sit down with the council and explain the agreement in depth, adding of the Dec. 6 council meeting, “I don’t think this is the forum for it.”
Boyden said, “This document has been reviewed by several attorneys,” and is awaiting the council’s approval. He also commented that “I have nothing to hide,” in regard to the MOU, but did not elaborate.
Council Member William “Bill” Weistling Jr. said he agreed with Carmean that the council needs more information on the agreement from the chief.
As a result, the Fenwick council postponed discussion and action on the MOU until Jan. 9. In addition, the council has also scheduled an executive session for Friday, Jan. 10, for “personnel matters.” When further asked about the MOU, Carmean refrained from further comment, saying she preferred to wait until the two January meetings.
The mutual-aid program was described as “an assist.” Under the program, police officers should only leave their own towns as needed.
South Bethany Police Chief Jason Lovins described potential scenarios: If one agency had multiple absences due to training, vacation or sick leave, they could ask another agency to perform a 15-minute patrol through town once every few hours, just to keep an eye on things. A South Bethany officer who hears (over the radio) that a Fenwick officer is doing a traffic stop by himself could just swing by to ensure officer safety and provide faster backup if the situation escalates. Or if any officer witnessed an egregious traffic violation during a late-night coffee run in another town, they could directly enforce the law and write a ticket.
“But I don’t want him up there running radar on a regular basis. He’s not paid to be in Ocean View, he’s paid to be here,” Lovins said of his officers. “It would still be the exception that a Fenwick officer or an Ocean View officer was doing a routine patrol through our town.”
Under the agreement, it would still be up to the chiefs to supervise their own staff. Officers are first sworn to their own towns, so a chief could also recall an officer if he saw them spending too much time in another town, which would be easy to determine, thanks to GPS monitoring on Town-owned vehicles.
Costs would be assumed by each individual town, and the agreement would be reviewed on an annual basis.
The Bethany Beach Police Department is not part of the agreement. But in a true emergency, all Delaware police agencies are part of a mutual-aid agreement that ensures that any nearby police officer can be dispatched to an emergency situation, regardless of jurisdiction, until the home agency has the situation under control. This three-town agreement would extend that for some non-emergent circumstances.
By Kerin Magill and Laura Walter