BBPD organizes security program

While federal beach reconstruction funding for the town may be in jeopardy, the Bethany Beach Police Department (BBPD) has been the happy recipient of a $49,000 grant for homeland security.
Sgt. Richard Haden said he had applied for $51,000 in homeland security funding to aid with a series of security initiatives that will focus on volunteers and community support, and all but $2,000 of that request was granted.

With the monies available, the first leg of his initiative will focus on a “Citizens Corps Council,” a group of volunteers who will help police and other emergency responders by volunteering their time regularly at a number of duties. (The creation of Citizens Corps Councils was called for by President George W. Bush in April 2002, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.)

Haden said the program in Bethany Beach will attempt to match all volunteers with suitable duties, from administrative assistance, to taking police vehicles to be serviced, to actual civilian patrols; and involvement from residents of all area towns is welcome.

The Citizens’ Corps members will, under Haden’s plan, be issued uniforms, and a car will be purchased and marked for their use in patrolling the community. And while Haden has already developed a policy and procedure manual for the volunteers, he said, “My vision of the program is that it will be managed by a volunteer and volunteer-operated.”

Once the volunteers are trained through a “citizens’ police academy,” Haden said, “I hope they will get to the point where they are autonomous.” The Corps will, however, be responsible to the BBPD and its chief.

Haden noted that his duties with the department will constrain him from managing the Corps directly. “If I could do it seven days a week, I would,” he added. Instead, Haden said he is hoping that one dedicated volunteer will soon step up to manage the program and determine volunteer scheduling, among other issues.

The Corps’ patrols will make them “extra eyes,” Haden said, additional manpower working to survey the area for any possible problems throughout the year. A volunteer would only need to provide a minimum of two hours of their time to the Corps every other week, he noted.

Volunteers will have to submit to — and pass — the same kinds of background screening as applicants to the police department, since they will sometimes be given access to sensitive security information.

With the Corps’ expected involvement with the community — and its children — Haden said attention will be paid to make absolutely sure, for instance, that no one with a history as a pedophile would be accepted to the program.

One of those child-related programs is also being partially funded through the homeland security grant. Haden said that, as a father himself, the safety of the community’s children was of particular importance in developing his program.

With that in mind, his plan included funding for the purchase of a high-tech inkless fingerprinting system, to enable the department to easily (and without mess) create special identification cards for children.

The ID program would provide two wallet-size cards — one for each parent or guardian — and a larger and more extensive ID card that could be kept on file to be accessed in case of emergencies.

The IDs will include a color photograph, vital and medical information, and fingerprints from each of the child’s 10 fingers, created with the special inkless system that Haden noted was especially toddler-friendly.

Haden said that, while parents don’t want to have to think of a situation in which they would need to use the cards, preparing for such a stressful situation can be key in a positive resolution. “Children are abducted every day,” he said.

That is also the case for the second element of the child ID program. Parents will be offered the opportunity to create a DNA kit for their children.

The DNA kits are a little different from what many parents might expect. They require only a cheek-swab for a saliva sample, eliminating the need for painful blood sampling.

Further, they don’t require any additional action by the parent once the sample is taken, Haden said. The sample is simply inserted into a preservative gel and stored in a safe location, such as a safety-deposit box, just in case it is ever needed.

Should that need arise, even “generations later,” Haden said, the sample can then be sent to a lab for processing — still fully preserved. He pointed out the peace of mind that could be provided to a parent — even in the worst of situations — by simply being able to definitively identify their child. He compared the decision to that of buying life insurance for a child.

The DNA kits normally retail for $15, and Haden said one of the decisions that will need to be made — based on community reaction and support for the program — will be the end price of the kits to parents.

He said profit from the sales of the kits at the retail price could go toward supporting the ID program or the Citizen Corps’ activities. Alternatively, they could be sold at a reduced rate, or even given away through sponsorship of local donors or businesses.

Sponsorship is what Haden is seeking for the ID program, as well.

The homeland security grant has already enabled the department to purchase 250 ID kits. But the cards provide a space for a sponsoring organization to place its logo, and Haden hopes local businesspeople will step up to help pay for the costs of the kits, especially if they receive the positive exposure of having their logo on the cards.

The cards could be in high demand if Haden’s plans for offering them become a reality. His vision for their distribution is that the Citizen Corp volunteers will man a station on the Bethany Beach boardwalk this summer, allowing parents to complete their childrens’ IDs while they’re enjoying their leisure time at the beach.

“We would set up a station on the boardwalk once or twice a week,” he said, “when we have the highest traffic of children.”

The cards could also be created and distributed at local sporting or other special events.

Haden noted that the program is “so fresh an idea, we really don’t have everything nailed down yet.” The final form of the Corps and related activities will be determined over time, with the help of the community volunteers who come forward to help.

Those volunteers are vital. “The only way to make this work is to get people involved,” he said.

Whether those volunteers come forward to patrol the streets of coastal towns, to help police with their administrative duties or to sponsor a day of ID creation, Haden is convinced their efforts will pay off in a community that is safer for everyone.

For more information, or to volunteer, contact Sgt. Richard Haden at the Bethany Beach Police Department by calling 539-1000.