Ferry to head beach patrol in Fenwick

Fenwick Island has changed the procedures for selecting the people in charge of its beach patrol, and a familiar face will be at the head.
Captain Tim Ferry was offered the position this year by recommendation of the town’s search committee and a unanimous vote of the town council. (Council member Chris Clark was absent from the Jan. 28 meeting.)
Council members also agreed to a slight reorganization of the patrol’s command structure, returning to the previous system of a captain and first lieutenant, rather than the 2004 system of a supervisor and captain.

Taking over the renewed position of first lieutenant for 2005 will be Ethan Long, a one-time lieutenant with the beach patrol in Bethany Beach.

Mark Tingle, chairman of the search committee, told council members that the committee’s hiring recommendations had been made primarily on the basis of the candidates’ experience. All candidates who had been available for an interview, he said, had been interviewed. And, of the two men employed in the positions in 2004, only Ferry had applied for the position in 2005, Tingle noted.

Tingle said the committee had recommended the beach patrol return to the traditional roles of captain and lieutenant, versus the supervisor and captain roles, due to the difficulty in distributing duties using the non-traditional roles. The committee itself was a change, marking the first time such a group was used to search for candidates. (Such a search is now mandated by law.)

Setting the tone for the coming season, council member and Beach Safety Officer Theo Brans referenced controversy over the reported actions of some beach patrol members during the 2004 season. He expressed confidence in the 2005 beach patrol members but proclaimed a “zero-tolerance policy” for similar behavior in the future.

Brans further noted that the town planned to hold an official end-of-season bonfire beach party for the patrol members, with all normal bonfire restrictions enforced — including those against drinking.

Brans also announced at the meeting his agreement to stay on in the position of beach safety officer until his term expires in June. Brans had submitted his resignation from the position some months prior, effective immediately; but efforts to find a replacement had stalled and he had agreed to remain until that replacement could be found. That temporary stay will now extend until June.

Also at the Jan. 28 meeting, Police Chief Colette Sutherland presented to council members information on the purchase and use of a noise meter. Council members had previously requested the information to aid in deciding whether the town should make such a purchase as part of its effort to reduce noise complaints.

Sutherland stated at the top of her presentation that she did not recommend a noise meter for Fenwick Island. “The cost is not justified, and we can’t get convictions in court,” she said plainly.

The police chief went on to explain that a number of factors were involved in deciding how to use a noise meter, including what types of noise were a concern, who would use it and at what precise location the metering would take place.

Sutherland also noted that the writing of an ordinance governing the use of a noise meter would be difficult and could cost upwards of $8,000 if a consultant were hired to assists in writing an ordinance. Further cost concerns came in the form of the equipment itself (approximately $2,500 to $3,800), officer training, accessories and regular calibration (approximately $250 per year).

The payoff for all that money and effort, she said, was very limited. Prosecution is rare in cases where noise meter readings are used as evidence, she explained. “Alderman’s Court is the only place Rehoboth and Dewey have successfully prosecuted,” she noted, adding that the state’s attorney general refuses to prosecute such cases because the findings of the meters were so often called into question, leading to the dismissal of the cases.

Further, she said, a defendant called into the Alderman’s Court had a right to request the case be transferred out of the court and to the Court of Common Pleas, where again the attorney general refused to prosecute.

With a possible cost of $10,000 to purchase equipment, train officers and create appropriate ordinances, Sutherland said she found the expense hard to justify in comparison to the town’s 22 noise complaints in 2004.

Of those 22 complaints, she said, all but one had been resolved with a single visit to the location. And the variety of complaints had included everything from construction noise and a loud radio, to five complaints about noise during business hours, to a protest about the sound of some windchimes, Sutherland noted.

Council Member Harry Haon said he had recently discussed noise meters with the police chiefs of Ocean View and Rehoboth Beach. Both had detracted their use as ineffective in court, according to Haon. But, he noted, “Just because we aren’t getting one doesn’t mean we don’t care about the noise problem.”

Council members declined to further discuss the idea of a noise meter, leaving the issue dead.

Reviewing Sutherland’s monthly report on police activity in the town, Brans said he recommended the town consider hiring several part-time officers to help cover the town during the times other officers were called away to assist other police agencies.

Sutherland noted for council members and those in attendance at the meeting that a number of her officers had been undergoing special training and that such training would be ongoing in coming months.

Communications training for officers in the department is set for April. Sutherland noted that the seminar was being hosted by the Fenwick Island department but that other area police departments had also been solicited for their interest. She said more than 75 potential participants had been identified, leading her to extend the seminar to two day-long sessions, to be held in Rehoboth Beach. The seminar is geared toward communication between officers and the public.

Several of the Fenwick Island officers have also recently completed drug-intervention training through the Drug Enforcement Administration. Sutherland herself is scheduled to attend a risk-management seminar this month, and Sgt. William Boyden is set to take an armorer’s class to learn how to repair the department’s firearms.

Resident Joyce Chiconus requested the town consider adding roof-mounted lights to its police cars.

Noting a rash of incidents in the national news in which criminals masqueraded as police officers, she expressed her concern at the lack of the traditional lights on top of police cars. All but one of the Fenwick Island police vehicles uses interior-mounted lights. That one vehicle, Boyden noted, is the oldest in the town’s fleet and nearly due for replacement.

Sutherland said the current trend in police vehicles has been to not use roof-mounted lights. She said there is no safety difference advantage to the roof-mounted systems, and Boyden said the interior-mounted lights had actually been shown to be brighter.

Sutherland stressed that all Fenwick Island Police Department Vehicles are fully marked, but Chiconus said the markings were difficult to see at night.

Boyden cited a reduced trade-in value at the end of the vehicles’ life-spans, due to the roof damage required to mount the lights on top. He further said fuel costs were increased — as much as 20 percent — due to the decreased aerodynamics with the roof-mounted lights.

Motorists concerned about the authenticity of any police vehicle pulling them over should not be afraid to proceed to a well-lit public location where they were comfortable, Sutherland noted. They would not be charged with fleeing from police under those circumstances.

Council President and Mayor Peter Frederick expressed his belief that the police department’s vehicles should be “consistent.” He requested Sutherland put together a presentation for the council members on the cost of having all the vehicles sport either the roof-mounted lighting systems or the interior-mounted ones.

Frederick himself also promised to investigate the possibility of having out-of-town resident charges removed from ambulance bills from the Ocean City ambulance service. Currently, Fenwick Island residents who receive service from the Maryland-based ambulances are charged an additional fee of approximately $100.

The mayor said he had investigated complaints about the issue to discover what the emergency system’s method of dispatch was for residents near the Maryland-Delaware border.

Frederick explained that calls to 911 and the Sussex County Emergency Center were prioritized to receive ambulance service from the Millville emergency medical technicians. If the response time from Millville was expected to be longer than eight minutes to reach the location, he said, the call was then passed on to either Roxana or Ocean City, depending on the need for a paramedic.

As Roxana does not keep a paramedic on call, generally, calls from Fenwick Island that require a paramedic are passed on to Ocean City paramedics when Millville is unable to respond within that eight-minute window. That system means Ocean City ambulance services cannot respond to Fenwick Island on their own, in anticipation of additional revenue, Frederick stressed.

However, he said he would look into the possibility of having Ocean City’s nearby neighbors in Delaware included within the ambulances’ “local” zone.